Man denied bail over Shepparton cannabis crop house

By Liz Mellino

A man has been denied bail over "serious" charges stemming from an alleged cannabis crop house police found in Shepparton last week.

Magistrate Peter Mithen refused to release Thien Nguyen, 30, from custody after facing Shepparton Magistrates’ Court on Monday, despite his lawyer proposing strict bail conditions including a surety of $365 000.

“He is an unacceptable risk — it is likely he would commit further offences if released,” Mr Mithen said.

Mr Nguyen, who police say has a warrant out for his arrest in Queensland for previous similar offending, is facing six charges including cultivating a commercial quantity of cannabis and trafficking a commercial quantity of cannabis.

It comes after police allegedly located 183 cannabis plants, weighing 248 kg, inside a Chevrolet Ave, Shepparton house during the execution of a search warrant on May 6.

Senior Constable Adam Ashley told the court the house was well equipped for a large-scale production of cannabis, including an illegally fitted electricity bypass to steal a "considerable amount" of electricity.

The court heard police found an electricity bill inside the living room addressed to the house next door, with a receipt paid attached saying the bill was paid the previous day at Australia Post.

Further inquiries revealed the accused was captured on CCTV making a cash payment for the electricity bill.

Sen Const Ashley said police located multiple fingerprints inside the house which matched those of Mr Nguyen.

The accused and a co-accused were arrested by police on May 7 while driving along Wyndham St in Shepparton in a Toyota Kluger, which a passer-by had previously seen at the house.

Police allegedly found two bags of soil, electrical transformers and a receipt for $9000 worth of growing agents inside the vehicle, along with 56 Australian dollars, three US dollars and a notebook containing phone numbers on Mr Nguyen.

Mr Nguyen was interviewed by police on May 8 where he gave a no comment’ record of interview, informing police he was from the Northern Territory and was here for a wedding.

Sen Const Ashley said police believed Mr Nguyen would flee the state or country if he was bailed, saying he was an unacceptable flight risk due to having a full and current driver's licence in Vietnam.

Mr Nguyen's lawyer Thibaut Clamart said his client could live in Melbourne with a family friend if bailed, who was willing to provide a surety of $365 000.

However, Sen Const Ashley said police had concerns with this, given that the father of the family friend had previously served a term of imprisonment for cultivating cannabis.

The court was told Mr Nguyen's passport would be arriving this week from Brisbane, something which police described as a "serious concern" given that he stated he lived in the Northern Territory during his record of interview.

Mr Clamart acknowledged that while the prosecution case against his client was "strong" he would be entering a plea of not guilty.

Mr Clamart urged Mr Mithen to take into account the "onerous conditions of imprisonment" due to the pandemic, including potential lockdowns and no visits.

He argued that there would be a delay in the police investigation, of which a timeline could not be provided, including a two- to three-year delay to have the matter heard at trial in the County Court.

He said the family friend willing to house his client was of good character, a student with no prior convictions, who provided an undertaking to monitor Mr Nguyen's compliance with bail and immediately report any breaches.

“By imposing the strictest bail conditions that risk could be brought to an acceptable level,” Mr Clamart said.

Mr Nguyen is expected to face court again in August.