Vietnam jails Thai drug trafficker for life

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A court in Ho Chi Minh City Friday sentenced to life in prison a Thai woman for smuggling nearly six kilograms of methamphetamine into Vietnam in April.

The panel of judges at the HCMC People's Court found Chutima Khonkla, 30, guilty of "illegally transporting drugs." Given the amount of drugs involved, she could have been punished by death under Vietnamese law.

However, she was sentenced to life on compassionate grounds because she has a 33-month-old child. The country's laws exempt women with children under 36 years old from the death sentence, the judges said.

Prosecutors said Khonkla was caught carrying 20 packs of crystal meth hidden in her suitcase's bottom at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport on April 9.

She was completing procedures to enter Vietnam after arriving at the airport on a flight from Doha, Qatar, according to the indictment.

The woman told police that she had met a Nigerian man known as Michael, who was living in Bangkok, on the Internet in February.

On March 16, Michael invited Khonkla, who lived in Sukhoithai City in northern Thailand, to Bangkok.

There the man asked her to fly to Nigeria to receive two suitcases of clothes and bring it into Vietnam, from where she would go to Cambodia by road and then Thailand.

She was promised US$2,000 for making the delivery.

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Prosecutors said that when she got the suitcases in Nigeria, the Thai woman knew that they contained the drugs, but she still agreed to transport them.

Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Those convicted of smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine face the death penalty.

Last month an appeals court in HCMC upheld a death sentence against a 23-year-old Thai student who was caught with more than three kilograms of meth when she arrived at the Tan Son Nhat on October 29 last year.

She was also transporting the drugs for a man from Doha, Qatar, to Vietnam.

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