Vietnam Court Sentences US National to Death for Drug Trafficking
A court in the commercial capital of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced a US national, also wanted by Belgian police, to death for heroin trafficking, just days after US President Bill Clinton's landmark visit, the official media reported Saturday.
The court found Vietnamese-born Nguyen Manh Cuong, alias Bui Huu Tai, who fled to the United States in 1978 at the age of 10, guilty of "drug trafficking and storing and organizing the use of drugs," official dailies said.
The court convicted Tai of trafficking 1.6 kilograms (three and a half pounds) of heroin, most of which he sold to a Japanese dealer, the city's Saigon Giaiphong daily said.
Under tougher drug laws introduced in 1997, possession of 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of heroin or five kilograms (11 pounds) of opium carries the death penalty here.
Police arrested Tai in September 1998 when he was being sought by Belgian police for "murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking," the official VNA news agency said.
A search of his Ho Chi Minh City home found 1.055 kilograms (2.32 pounds) of opium and 10.01 grams (0.35 ounces) of heroin, the news agency said.
Police told the court that Tai had purchased the 1.6 kilograms of heroin from Vietnamese national Nguyen Thi Hoa who was arrested with him.
Hoa was also convicted of drug trafficking but escaped with a life prison sentence because she was pregnant at the time of her arrest and now has a young child, Saigon Giaiphong said.
Four other defendants were sentenced to prison terms of between 12 months suspended and nine years for the illegal storage of drugs at the one-day trial Friday, VNA said.
The execution of a Canadian national on drug charges here in April sparked a diplomatic row with Ottawa.
Vietnamese-born Nguyen Thi Hiep was the first holder of a Western passport to face the death penalty here.
Canadian officials accused the Vietnamese authorities of pressing ahead with her execution without taking into account evidence she had been set up.
Her mother, who was jailed for life at the same trial, was later freed by the Vietnamese authorities in a deal with Ottawa.
Vietnam's widespread use of executions has attracted mounting criticism from human rights groups.
More than 90 people have been sentenced to death for drug trafficking here so far this year against 76 last year and 58 in 1998.
But the Vietnamese parliament is due to discuss further toughening the drugs laws in its current session which ends next month.
The government blames an influx of cheap opium and heroin from neighboring Laos and the other poppy-growing Golden Triangle countries of Myanamr and Thailand for the mounting spread of HIV here.
Earlier this month Clinton infuriated the authorities here by keeping Vietnam on a list of 24 countries around the world where the transit or production of narcotics destined for the United States remained a pressing concern.
"Vietnam is not a country that produces or transits drugs and psychotropic substances, but one that is suffering the damage caused by this disaster," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh.
Vietnam's communist authorities impose the death penalty for a total of 29 different offences, including a string of economic crimes as well as murder, treason, drug trafficking, sexual offences against children and serious cases of armed robbery.
In all, 194 people were sentenced to death last year -- HANOI (AFP)
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