Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Police investigating the suspected illegal importation of animals into Northern Ireland have seized 57 puppies, three adult dogs and a cat.
A 44-year-old man has been arrested following the operation at the Belfast harbour estate.
Detectives believe the animals may have been brought to Northern Ireland from the Republic and were destined for sale in England or Scotland.
PSNI Detective Inspector Conor Sweeney said: “The male was arrested on suspicion of a number of offences including fraud by false representation and possession of articles for use in fraud.
“A quantity of cash was also seized.
“He remains in custody helping with ongoing enquiries.”
The seized puppies are of assorted breeds including golden retriever, cockapoo, miniature terrier, French bull dog, American bull dog, cocker spaniel, dachshunds and roan spaniel.
They are being examined by a vet.
Mr Sweeney added: “We suspect many of the dogs had been illegally imported into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland for onward sale within England and Scotland.
“Police are absolutely committed to tackling the smuggling of illegal commodities through Northern Ireland’s ports.
“Most recent seizures by the Organised Crime Unit have been in relation to illegal drugs.
“However, as this operation has shown, drugs are not the only items being traded illegally.
“Smuggling is often conducted by sophisticated cross-border organised criminal groups.
“Such groups will not discriminate when it comes to the commodity being smuggled – should that be drugs, cigarettes, people, or in this case, animals.
“I use the word commodity as this is how crime gangs view the people and animals they smuggle – as nothing but commodities which they can exploit to line their own pockets.
“Those involved in puppy smuggling do not care about the horrendous impact this type of criminal activity can have both on the animals and on the victims who innocently buy them as family pets.
“If anyone has information about any illegal activity, please contact police on 101.”