Vietnam security officers suspended for missing 229kg heroin haul

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 Cargos scanned at a cargo warehouse at Tan Son Nhat Airport, Ho Chi Minh City / PHOTO: NGOC THO

Four aviation security officers from a major Vietnamese airport have been suspended for failing to detect a 229-kilogram heroin haul which was later uncovered by Taiwanese authorities last week.

The officers, who were with the Aviation Security Center at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, were in charge of scanning cargo, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying on Saturday.

Initial information is that the drugs were hidden in 12 empty stereo speakers, which were loaded onto a China Airlines cargo aircraft when it transited at the airport on November 16.

The aircraft departed from Penang, Malaysia, and arrived at Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport, where local authorities confiscated the shipment, estimated to be worth US$300 million, the next day.

Tuoi Tre also quoted a source from the Ministry of Public Security as saying that its Department of Drug Crimes Investigation has summoned several suspects, including those allegedly involved in the scanning of the consignment.

It said Le Hoa Trading and Forwarding Co. Ltd in HCMC's District 1 sent the consignment through another forwarding company, which signed a contract with China Airlines to ship it from HCMC to Taiwan.

On November 16, when the consignment arrived at the cargo area of Tan Son Nhat and was about to go through a scanning system, the main scanner reportedly broke.

A substitute system failed to detect the narcotics inside, the newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, online newspaper Dan Tri reported Friday that Le Hoa signed a contract with Air Sea WorldWide Vietnam Logistics Co. Ltd in HCMC to send the consignment.

Its partner booked the shipment with Korchina Logistics Co. Ltd, a representative of China Airlines in Vietnam.

The consignment was categorized as "magnetic" and labeled "dangerous", Dan Tri reported.

The consignment had its procedures completed at the warehouse of Tan Son Nhat Cargo Services Co. Ltd, which provides cargo handling services for international flights operating out of Tan Son Nhat.

A Le Hoa representative was quoted as saying that the company did not own the narcotics, but was contracted to send them.

The representative refused to reveal the owner's identity, saying that their investigation is ongoing.

Previously, Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau told local media that 600 packages of heroin hidden in the speakers had been smeared with chocolate to avoid being detected by dogs.

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Following the confiscation, the bureau's officers arrested seven people suspected of being involved in heroin smuggling operations last year and who had been monitored since.

Among them was one suspect surnamed Wong, who had visited Vietnam and China several times, apparently as part of an illegal drug ring.

Wong worked for a cargo transportation company and was familiar with transportation channels, while other suspects worked with Taiwanese suspects residing in China, the bureau said.

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