An Albanian man claiming to be a victim of human trafficking has been jailed for 30 months for helping oversee a cannabis farm in Galashiels town centre.
Mirjan Kastrati claimed to have fled his Balkan homeland fearing he was going to be murdered and had to pay £16,000 to traffickers to get him here.
To pay off that debt, though, he says he was forced to look after a £200,000-plus cannabis cultivation in a former bookmaker’s shop in Channel Street.
When police raided the first-floor building, they found 700 cannabis plants and the 30-year-old asleep in its kitchen area.
Kastrati insisted he had only been sent there to act as security and was never responsible for heating, watering or otherwise looking after the cultivation and had played no part in setting it up.
Sheriff David Clapham said he took into account the arguments put forward by defence lawyer Urfan Dar, telling him that the usual starting point would be a four-year jail sentence.
He explained he was able to hand out a shorter jail term in this case, though, and sentenced Kastrati to two and a half years behind bars backdated to April, that being when he was first taken into custody in connection with the matter.
Procurator fiscal Graham Fraser told Selkirk Sheriff Court said that police had received information that the old Ladbrokes shop was being used to cultivate cannabis.
Police raided the premises at 8.55am on April 9 and found Kastrati there with another man, he said.
The fiscal told the court that 701 cannabis plants were found and Scottish Power had to be called in to make the building safe as its electricity supply had been tampered with.
Mr Fraser continued: “The accused said he had fled Albania a year before in 2018.
“He advised how his uncle, who was a significant person in politics, had been murdered previously and he felt obliged to leave Albania after receiving threats to himself and his family.
“He ran up debts of £16,000 for being brought into this country.
“He said he was not allowed to leave the premises where the cannabis cultivation was and slept in the kitchen area.
“He said how he had an allergy to cannabis which was making him unwell.
“He did not know he was in Scotland and had been subjected to violence including a broken nose.
“He was working for a group of males to pay off the debt.”
Mr Fraser said the plants had not matured and hadn’t come into bud so estimates of their value were wide ranging.
He explained that if the cannabis were split into small deals, it could be worth anything between £200,000 and £590,000.
Mr Dar had said his client was under the impression that he would have to pay £4,000 to come to Britain and was astonished to be told he would have to pay another £12,000.
He said: “He was forced to comply with what these men wanted him to do. He had come here via Italy and Belgium and was working in London but was subjected to threats.
“He was told he was going to Newcastle and then he was put into a taxi and taken to Galashiels. He had never heard of it.
“He was taken to these premises where the plants were already there.”
Mr Dar said it should be taken into account that Kastrati was not the gardener for the cannabis as that would have put him higher up the supply chain and also that he was in a vulnerable position.
He said: “He has been trafficked into this country and was not the gardener. He was there to provide security.”
Kastrati pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of a controlled drug.