Four of six allegedly smuggled gold bars found in the shoes of the captain of a Vietnam Airlines flight at a South Korean airport on March 10. Photo credit: Yonhap News
Vietnamese aviation authorities said they have launched an investigation following reports that a pilot and a flight attendant of Vietnam Airlines were arrested in South Korea for allegedly smuggling 6 kilograms (192 troy ounces) of gold.
Lai Xuan Thanh, chief of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV), was quoted by Tuoi Tre newspaper on Friday as saying that CAAV contacted South Korean authorities for more information.
He said CAAV has not received any response from South Korea.
On March 10, captain Nguyen Van Dung and attendant Nguyen Tan Phong of Flight VN426 were arrested with six "undeclared" gold bars, weighing 1kg each, hidden in their shoes after their flight landed at Busan City's Gimhae Airport.
According to local media, Dung and Phong told the police that they were paid US$250 for every kilogram of smuggled gold.
Tran Hoai Phuong, director of Northern Airports Authority, said his agency is reviewing all the processes related to the flight, which had departed from Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport.
It is searching for any loophole that allowed crew members carrying illegal items to go through security checks, Thanh said.
He said it was possible that the captain and attendant did not bring the gold aboard themselves, but a ground service worker brought it there for them.
Tuoi Tre quoted some gold trade experts as saying that it is "strange" that gold was smuggled out of Vietnam, where its prices are higher than global prices, making the business hardly profitable.
The official gold price set by the authorized gold bar producer SJC is now about VND3.7 million ($169) more expensive than the global price for a 1.2-ounce tael of gold.
Tran Thanh Hai, chief executive officer of Vietnam Gold Business, said to bring gold from Vietnam to South Korea for sale at the moment sounds like doing business in the wrong direction.
He speculated that the gold may have been intended as payment for some transaction, as gold is apparently easier to be hidden and more valuable than foreign currencies.
Six kilograms of gold is worth about $240,000, Hai said.
Another expert told Tuoi Tre that the gold could have been brought from a third country into Vietnam, before being smuggled to South Korea.
Last December, another Vietnam Airlines flight attendant was arrested at the same South Korea airport for smuggling 8 kg of gold, according to a report
on the website busanhaps.com.
According to a Bloomberg report last year, purchasing gold bars is “a common way to hide income in South Korea, where a shadow economy of unreported buying and selling accounts for a quarter of gross domestic product.”