Dangerous business

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African drug smuggling rings are using Vietnamese female students as traffickers instead of middle-aged women as they did earlier, a senior narcotics police officer has warned.

Colonel Le Thanh Liem, deputy chief of the Narcotics Police Department under the Ministry of Public Security, asked students not to fall in the trap set by these rings and forgo their future by indulging in crime.

Giving details of a recent case where two students were arrested and two others summoned for questioning, Liem called for heightened vigilance on this issue.

He said an investigation into an African-led ring that smuggled drugs from Africa to Vietnam is ongoing.

On July 20, a 22-year-old student of the Hong Bang University in Ho Chi Minh City, Tran Ha Duy, gave herself up to the police after being informed that her 20-year-old sister, Tran Ha Tien, was nabbed at HCMC's Tan Son Nhat International Airport two days earlier for attempting to smuggle more than four kilograms of methamphetamine into the country.

The import and export of methamphetamine via non-commercial means is prohibited under Vietnamese law.

Customs officers found a large bag of methamphetamine at the bottom of Tien's luggage as she disembarked from Qatar.

Initial investigations found that she was bringing drugs from Tanzania in Africa to Vietnam via Qatar.

Shortly after Tien's arrest, the police also apprehended Huynh Ngoc Loi, 22, a suspected ring member, and seized four kilograms of methamphetamine from a suitcase in his house in HCMC. 

At the time of Tien's arrest, Duy was delivering a batch of drugs to Cambodia. After the police successfully persuaded her family to talk her into giving up to police, Duy returned to Vietnam.

She confessed to the police she and her sister were members of the African-led drug smuggling ring.

Innocuous beginnings 

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Duy told the police she made acquaintance with a 30-something man of African origin named Francis (no further information has been disclosed about him) in 2007, and they exchanged mobile phone numbers.

In August 2010, Francis asked her to join his business by delivering samples of clothes and shoes to partners in foreign countries, and she accepted. She also introduced her sister, Tien, also a student at Hong Bang University, to the business.

Duy said she had successfully delivered four batches between August 2010 and July 2011, and was paid US$1,000 for each trip.

In the first trip, in August 2010, Duy flew to Malaysia to receive the "goods" and brought them to Indonesia.

In March 2011, she flew to a West African country, the police said without elaborating, and received a suitcase from a local resident. She checked the suitcase but did not discover anything abnormal, she told the police.

After getting back to Vietnam, she was asked by Francis to take the suitcase to Malaysia.

In May 2011, she once again came to the West African country to receive another suitcase and brought it to Malaysia via Vietnam.

During the fourth trip in early July 2011, Duy received a suitcase from the West African country. This time, she had doubts after she pressed her fingers on the bottom of the suitcase and felt something hard, she said.

When she returned to Vietnam, she asked Francis if the goods were drugs, but the man calmed her down.

"He said I should not be worrying because there is a big boss who is responsible for the whole ring," Duy said.

When Duy told Francis she wanted to quit, he told her she could not do so and must finish the fourth trip by delivering the suitcase to Cambodia. He did not answer her question about when Tien, who was then delivering goods to Africa, would get back to Vietnam.

As Duy was worried about the safety of her sister, she agreed to deliver the goods to Cambodia.

In Cambodia, a man introducing himself as Francis's brother called Duy and told her that Tien was not reachable via mobile phone. He also told her not to answer any calls from unknown numbers and asked Duy to remain in Cambodia until he told her to return.

Meanwhile, Tien told the police she had realized drugs were hidden in the suitcase during her first overseas trip, but she ignored it as she needed the money for her study.

Tien had successfully delivered two batches and was also paid $1,000 for each trip.

Expansion

Two other female students, said to have been invited by Duy to join the business, have been summoned for questioning.

The two were about to deliver drugs to Cambodia, and they had also invited two other friends to join the business.

"If we do not stop them, the ring will collect more and more members," Colonel Liem said.

He said the African criminals usually make friends with Vietnamese students online or on the street and ask them to join their ring by delivering clothes and shoes from foreign countries to Vietnam.

"They used to target divorced, middle-aged women but now they have turned to English-speaking students. These African rings have centipede-feet networks in many countries."

Colonel Liem called on Vietnamese students to be very careful. "Do not lose your future for (immediate) financial benefit," he said.

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