Vietnam police begin probe into heroin smuggled to Taiwan

By Thai Son, Thanh Nien News

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Some of the 600 heroin bricks that were discovered in an aircraft container on display at the Criminal Investigation Bureau building in Taipei Sunday / PHOTO: AFP Some of the 600 heroin bricks that were discovered in an aircraft container on display at the Criminal Investigation Bureau building in Taipei Sunday / PHOTO: AFP
The Ministry of Public Security has started an investigation into the smuggling of 229 kilograms of heroin from Ho Chi Minh City to Taiwan last November.

On November 17 Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau seized 600 bricks of heroin hidden inside 12 stereo speakers from a China Airlines cargo aircraft that had flown into Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei.

The drugs had been smeared with chocolate to avoid being detected by dogs, the bureau said.

It estimated the heroin to be worth US$300 million, Taiwan's largest heroin smuggling bust in two decades.

Eight suspects have been arrested.

A suspect who worked for a transport company and is known only by his surname, Wong, visited Vietnam and China several times, apparently to handle the illegal drugs, Taiwanese investigators said.

The bureau added that they had been monitoring Wong and some others suspected of being involved in heroin smuggling.

It said that some Taiwanese suspects living in China had directed Wong and his accomplices.

Preliminary investigations by the Vietnamese police found that the heroin had been brought from China to Vietnam by road.

They said a group of smugglers rented a hotel room in HCMC’s District 3 and there they packed the drugs into the speakers.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam, the China Airlines cargo aircraft departed from Penang, Malaysia, and transited at Tan Son Nhat Airport before heading for Taiwan.

On November 15 last year Tan Son Nhat Cargo Services Co. Ltd (TCS), which provides cargo handling services for international flights at Tan Son Nhat, signed a contract with the Le Hoa Trading and Forwarding Co. Ltd to send the consignment of stereo speakers to Taiwan.

TCS is a joint venture between Vietnam Airlines, Southern Airports Services Company (SASCO) and Singapore Airport Terminal Services.

After clearing customs, the consignment was designated as "magnetic" and labeled "dangerous" by security authorities at the airport.

Tran Ma Thong, deputy chief of the HCMC customs department, told the media that the consignment went through the green channel and was not subjected to scanning and other checks.

"Customs officers just checked the information in the declaration form and cleared the consignment," he added.

Four officials at the Aviation Security Center at Tan Son Nhat Airport, who were in charge of scanning cargo (after they cleared customs), have been suspended for failing to detect the heroin.

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