A FORMER city centre department store was transformed into a £2.1 million cannabis factory with 3,000 plants.

Illegal immigrants Adrian Daja, 27, and Andi Shabani, 28, were caught looking after the enormous crop inside where Wildings had once stood for 145 years in Newport.

The once thriving shop closed its doors for the last time in 2019.

Byron Broadstock, prosecuting, said the building on Commercial Street was raided by Gwent Police on October 10 last year.

Officers found Daja and Shabani there where they were operating as gardeners tending to the plants for a crime gang.

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The defendants, who followed proceedings with the help of an Albanian interpreter, claimed they had been put to work there to pay off the cost of their passage to the UK.

South Wales Argus: Adrian Daja

There was evidence of Shabani enjoying a day out in Cardiff Bay which proved that at least one of them wasn’t confined to the former Wildings building around the clock.

The defendants, both of no fixed abode, admitted the production of cannabis.

They had no previous convictions.

South Wales Argus: Andi Shabani

David Pinnell, representing Daja and Shabani, told Cardiff Crown Court his clients had pleaded guilty and asked for them to be given the appropriate credit.

Their barrister went on to conceded: “This was a significant number of plants for a city centre.”

Judge Shomon Khan told the defendants: “This was a very professional set up with a considerable amount of cannabis plants – 3,000.

South Wales Argus: Some of the 3,000 plants at the £2.1 million cannabis factory. Picture: CPS Wales

“The crop had an estimated street value of £2.1 million.

“You were here illegally and working as gardeners to pay off your debts.”

Daja and Shabani were each jailed for two years.

Judge Khan said to them: “Your illegal status will trigger automatic deportation, but that’s a matter for the Home Office.”

The pair duo could be the subject of a proceeds of crime investigation and they were told they will have to pay a statutory victim surcharge of £228.