A LETTINGS agency was used as a cover for operating a network of cannabis farms growing £700,000 of the drug, a court heard.

Hanif Valli and former school friend Zameer Qayune, partners in Global Estates, a residential lettings agency based in St Helens Road, allegedly worked with Valli’s brother, Bilal Valli, to set up fake tenancies for several houses, Bolton Crown Court was told.

They are then said to have put Vietnamese 'gardeners' into the properties to grow the plants — and even the flat above the Global Estates office was used as a farm.

In total 1,750 plants, worth an estimated £700,000, were recovered by police from nine properties which were either operating or being set up as cannabis farms.

Hanif Valli, aged 33, and Bilal Valli, aged 32, both of Newbrook Road, Over Hulton, and Qayune, aged 33, of Longfield Road, Bolton, have admitted conspiracy to produce cannabis between October 31 2011 and September 14 2012. But a trial of issue is being held because they dispute the level of their involvement.

Henry Blackshaw, prosecuting, told the court that six different Vietnamese gardeners have been prosecuted but there was a delay in identifying the Vallis and Qayune because it was not immediately apparent that the properties used as farms were either owned or controlled by them.

The first arrest was Bilal Valli on September 3, 2012 who turned up at a house in Sapling Road, Bolton as police were searching it.

He claimed to be visiting to collect the rent from the a tenant. But the same day police also discovered a cannabis farm at Willows Lane, which was also owned by Bilal Valli.

When police searched his Newbrook Road home on September 13, 2013 they found incriminating messages on his iphone and laptop, where the three defendants apparently discussed buying and using cannabis growing equipment, how much they should pay the gardeners and arrangements for watering plants.

A list of propagation items was also found in an an envelope recovered from the driver's seat pocket of Bilal Valli's Corsa.

Harif Valli and Qayune were arrested the same day at the Global Estates premises.

The prosecution allege that the men created false tenancies for the premises they operated as cannabis farms, including using forged identification documentation, some of which was downloaded from the internet.

The case continues.