Illegal narcotics, high-end prostitution rampant in Vietnam metro

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The presence of synthetic narcotics in Ho Chi Minh City is increasing exponentially while prostitution is out of control, the city government said at a conference Monday.

A report on social evils by the city People's Committee at the conference showed that the city police over the first six months of this year seized five times, or 21 kilograms, more synthetic narcotics than during the same period last year.

The increase includes the 27 kilograms of heroin and synthetic narcotics seized at Tan Son Nhat Airport on five different occasions in April.

Over last year and the first six months of this year, the city police have seized more than 31,000 synthetic narcotic tablets, more than 17 kilograms of heroin from 2,500 cases and arrested 4,743 people. Customs officials at airports and border gates were helpful in many of these cases.

Le Minh Tri, vice chairman of the city administration, said more narcotics are being produced in Vietnam, and there's a new concern that the production has been made more convenient and difficult to uncover as pseudoephedrine (PSE), a common cold medicine ingredient, is now being used to produce methamphetamine.

Tri said forces and measures currently in place to prevent and contain the crime are inadequate to deal with the problem.

The committee report also admitted the failure to rein in prostitution, which is currently outlawed in Vietnam.

It said the city has around 3,500 sex workers but authorities could only keep track of 183, or 5.2 percent, according to a report by news website VnExpress.

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Brothels disguised as massage parlors, barber shops, dance clubs, cafés and restaurants have become commonplace.

He said most prostitutes were uneducated and had difficulties earning money without a degree.

But educated, high income models and actresses have also begun working as prostitutes. "They want a luxury life and thus were willing to sell their dignity cheap," the vice chairman said.

Investigations done by the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs over the first six months this year showed that the income of sex workers can exceed VND10 million (US$480) per month, but that actresses, models and beauty queens were able to earn several thousand dollars each time.

"There're many reasons that models, actresses and beauty queens sell sex, but the main one is that it is lucrative," Le Thi Ha from the ministry said in a Tien Phong report August 3.

One prominent prostitution ring that was busted early last June was run by Vo Thi My Xuan, 2009 winner of a Mekong Delta beauty contest, and Ho Chi Minh City actress Thien Kim. It employed many other women from various entertainment industries, who police said charged up to $2,500 per session, while Xuan said some customers paid as much as $25,000 for a three-day trip to Singapore.

Another ring busted in Ho Chi Minh City in late May also employed models and charged customers up to $1,500 per session.

At the Monday conference, Tri said the government should establish more rules concerning homosexual male prostitution and solicitations for prostitution online, as those practices have become popular.

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