A SPANISH man caught with 17 kilos of suspected cannabis worth an estimated £177,000 in a suitcase at Belfast International Airport claimed he was to be paid 2,000 Euros for transporting the drugs.
Details emerged at Antrim Magistrates Court, sitting in Ballymena, where Antonio Luis Rodriguez Martinez (34), with an address listed as C/Navacerrada, Brunete, was charged with possessing cannabis with intent to supply on March 20 this year.
He is also charged with possessing cannabis and importing cannabis on March 20.
The defendant appeared via video link from custody and had the assistance of a Spanish language interpreter.
The defendant told the court: "I don't supply drugs. I was never going to supply drugs. I don't supply, they only paid me to bring them here but I was never intending to supply".
A National Crime Agency officer objected to bail and told the court the defendant came off an easyJet flight at Aldergrove on Sunday and when a suitcase was searched 17.7 kilos of suspected herbal cannabis with an estimated street value of "£177,000" was found.
The officer said the defendant made a "full and frank admission in relation to having been paid £2,000 Euros to bring the suitcase to Northern Ireland".
He said the defendant was a Spanish national and there would be a "serious risk of flight" if bailed.
Defence barrister Neil Moore asked the officer to confirm there were "full and frank admissions made by Mr Martinez" and he replied that was correct.
The officer said the defendant had not provided any names of others involved and that the defendant said he didn't know who had approached him.
The officer said the defendant said he would be "met somewhere nearby Belfast International Airport.
"The suitcase would be taken from him. He would be then left to the bus station where he was to get the bus to Cork and stay the night in a hotel in Cork where he would be met the following day and paid 2,000 Euros and brought, potentially, to Dublin Airport for a return flight to Spain".
The court heard the defendant had no convictions in Northern Ireland or the UK and a check was being carried out in Spain.
The officer feared the defendant could try to leave the country, perhaps on a "fishing trawler".
Mr Moore said he accepted it was a serious case and the defendant had been involved in "couriering of cannabis".
Deputy District Judge Trevor Browne said: "There are far too many unanswered questions. He had the the opportunity in interview. I appreciate there may be darker elements involved in this and he may be afraid of giving too much information.
"I consider there is a real risk that he or his co-conspirators, and there must be people here who are involved in this, potentiality cold spirit him away. We don't know why rank he has within this organisation. To entrust somebody with this amount of drugs and to do it in such a blatant way by bringing it in in a suitcase, there is more to this, I'm satisfied, than meets the eye".
Bail was refused and the case was adjourned to April 12.
- Main picture: Belfast International Airport.