Drug smuggling significantly increased during the past two years in Vietnam where local users now consume more than VND14 trillion (US$658 million) annually, the Ministry of Public Security reported.
Vietnam has more than 204,000 documented drug addicts, including 19,000 in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the localities with the highest number, the ministry said in a report released during a Saturday conference held in HCMC on the nation's fight against transnational drug syndicates.
Between September 2012 and September 2014, relevant forces busted 39 cases of drug smuggling at Tan Son Nhat International Airport and arrested 30 people.
Police seized a total of 16kg of heroin, 15kg cocaine, 21kg methamphetamine and 72kg stimulant used to make methamphetamine during the two-year period.
According to the narcotics department, drug smuggling through airports has increased since 2012 and mostly involves African criminal gangs.
Drugs seizures at Vietnam’s airports mostly involved cocaine from South America, methamphetamines from the Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan) and heroin from the Golden Triangle (Laos, Thailand and Myanmar).
The kingpins mostly operate abroad and direct local mules via telephone or over the internet.
“We often arrest local drug mules, but we never catch the African criminals who mastermind the smuggling,” said a police source.
“Foreign and local criminals often conspire to smuggle drugs from Vietnam to Australia and Taiwan, causing difficulties for customs officials,” he said.
Dinh Ngoc Thang, deputy head of HCMC Customs Agency, said customs officials have mostly caught drug mules based on hunches and lack the training and resources to cope with more cunning criminals.
“Besides, there has not been sufficient coordination between airport security, customs and police,” he said.
Nguyen Phi Hung, deputy director of the Ministry of Public Security's investigative unit, said airport forces frequently detect drugs in the luggage and bodies of smugglers, but have also missed major consignments.
“The smuggling of 600 bricks of heroin out of Vietnam that ended up being caught by Taiwanese authorities is an example,” he said.
Hung said drug smuggling by sea is even more complicated than by air.
“In addition to proper training and resources, we need good officers because one rotten apple spoils the barrel.”