Vietnam hands death penalty to 30 drug smugglers
By Cat Barton, AFP
January 21, 2014, 12:09 am TWN
HANOI--Vietnam on Monday sentenced 30 drug smugglers to death in the communist country's largest-ever narcotics case, involving scores of defendants and nearly two tons of heroin, a judge said.
The 30 men and women, all Vietnamese, were found guilty of drug trafficking and given the death penalty while a further 59 defendants were handed sentences ranging up to life in prison in connection with the case, presiding judge Ngo Duc told AFP.
"This was Vietnam's largest ever trial in terms of defendants, the number of death penalties given out and the amount of heroin involved," Duc told AFP after the verdict was read out in the northern province of Quang Ninh that borders China.
"Because of the large number of defendants and the seriousness of the case, the trial was held at the prison," judge Duc added.
The trial, which lasted 17 days, began on Jan. 3 this year.
Investigators said that the defendants belonged to four international smuggling rings responsible for trafficking heroin and other drugs from neighboring Laos into Vietnam and China since 2006.
"All the defendants are Vietnamese and most of them came from Vietnam's northwestern provinces," court clerk Nguyen Trung Hieu told AFP.
Vietnam's remote northwestern region, which borders both China and Laos, is poor and populated by a patchwork of ethnic minority groups.
There have been previous smuggling cases in the area, which is far from the control of Hanoi.
According to a list of the defendants' names seen by AFP some of the 89 people were from ethnic minority groups, but court officials could not confirm their status.
One of the leaders of the four smuggling rings broken up by the police bust remains at large, state media reported.
Police disrupted the rings in August 2013 making mass arrests and seizing large quantities of illegal drugs.
Police also confiscated 20 luxury cars and dozens of guns and other weapons during the raid, state media reported.
Communist Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Anyone found guilty of possessing more than 600 grams of heroin, or more than 20 kilograms of opium, can face the death penalty.
Convictions and sentences are usually revealed only by local media which is strictly under state control.
The "golden triangle" region of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar was formerly one of the world's top producers of illicit opium and heroin but has been overtaken by Afghanistan.
After a two-year hiatus in carrying out capital punishment due to problems procuring chemicals for lethal injections, Vietnam executed its first prisoner by the method last August.
The country currently now has more than 600 prisoners on death row, according to media reports and an AFP tally.
Many have been sentenced for drug offences including dozens of foreigners — although it has been decades since a foreign citizen was executed.
Although the communist country does not release statistics on executions, rights group Amnesty International recorded 86 new death sentences in 2012 while it said five executions were carried out the previous year.