11 Vietnamese arrested overseas in drug, rhino horn trade cases

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Ten Vietnamese have been arrested by New Zealand police as part of an investigation being run by local authorities in conjunction with their Canadian counterparts.

The ongoing investigation aims to smash an international drug syndicate between the two nations uncovered by Canadian authorities last December.

Seven men and three women, aged  18 to 34, were arrested last week in Auckland, where five houses being used to grow cannabis had been located, the Wellington newspaper Stuff reported on February 26, citing a police press release.

The investigation started after Canadian authorities intercepted two separate consignments of truck shock absorbers containing 6.6 kilograms of methamphetamine en route to New Zealand. Authorities estimated the drug shipment's street value to be US$7 million.

Investigators learned that the syndicate was cultivating cannabis on a large scale involving several houses, mainly in North Shore City, a suburb of Auckland. 

The release revealed that police last week seized more than 600 fully grown cannabis plants, an ounce (0.03 kilogram) of methamphetamine and NZ$90,000 ($74,190) in cash.

Two among the Vietnamese arrestees none of whom were identified by name now face charges of "conspiracy to import methamphetamine and importing methamphetamine," according to the release.

Nguyen Hong Cuong, Vietnam's ambassador to New Zealand, told Thanh Nien that the Vietnamese embassy has yet to receive any official information from local authorities.

Cuong added that his embassy is trying to determine whether the arrested Vietnamese are immigrants or students.

In related news, Mozambique police arrested Ho Chien, a Vietnamese national, on February 24 for allegedly attempting to smuggle six rhino horns, weighing a total of 17 kilograms, out of the southeastern African nation. Chien was stopped by local police and customs officers at Maputo International Airport, where they found the horns, worth an estimated $1.1 million, in his luggage.

Mozambican authorities speculated that the horns probably came from neighboring South Africa, as rhinoceroses are considered extinct within Mozambique, local newswire AIM said in a recent  report.

Police have not announced which country Chien was attempting to smuggle the horns into, according to the paper.

Vietnam's ambassador to Mozambique, Dang Giang, told Thanh Nien that his embassy has contacted the local foreign affairs ministry regarding the case.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported on February 26 that at least 745 rhinos were killed across Africa in 2012, the most in twenty years. It also estimated that on average one rhino has been poached every 11 hours so far this year. According to the IUCN, approximately 2,400 rhinos have been killed in the continent since 2006.

"Well-organized and well-funded crime syndicates are continuing to feed the growing black market with rhino horn," said Mike Knight, chairman of IUCN Species Survival Commission's rhino expert team.

A recent report by the international wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC found that the recent surge in rhino poaching correlates directly to increased demand for rhino horns in Asia, especially Vietnam, where they are purchased as luxury items or for medicinal purposes purported to be traditional, including cancer treatment.

However, traditional Chinese medicine experts said there is no proof that rhino horns have any cancer-curing properties, according to TRAFFIC.

Vietnam's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in January renewed its call for people to refrain from trading in or consuming wildlife products during the last Lunar New Year's festival.

Mozambique, which the IUCN claimed is a major hub for the transport of rhino horns to Asia, and Vietnam in particular.

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