Vietnam's untrained aviation officers overlooked heroin haul

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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

A Vietnamese official has said that local aviation security officers overlooked 229 kilograms of herion hidden in a shipment to Taiwan last month because they were not trained to detect drugs.

Lai Xuan Thanh, chief of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV), told Thanh Nien in an interview on Friday, a few days after the Ho Chi Minh City Customs Department said the consignment of empty loudspeakers where the drug was hidden was sent from the city's Tan Son Nhat International Airport on November 16 without being checked by customs.

Customs said the consignment was automatically categorized as being sent through the "green channel" a category for goods sent by companies with clean records, not subject to customs scrutiny.

After being cleared by customs, the consignment was sent through the scanning system at the airport's Aviation Security Center.

According to Thanh, although CAAV has signed cooperation agreements on drug prevention, they have yet to train their security officers in related tactics.

Security officers who were on duty that day followed regulated procedures, meaning that they scanned the consignment for explosives or any other factors that could threaten aviation security, he said.

Pictures of the consignment stored on the scanner showed that the packages of drugs appeared as black batches, but the officers, after scanning, confirmed that they were not explosives or weapons, thus not informing their senior.

Vietnam's Law on Civil Aviation does not require aviation security to detect drugs.

"We cannot blame related security officers; it is a systematical fault of CAAV agencies that they failed to launch training sessions," Thanh said.

Tuoi Tre (youth) newspaper previously reported that the four aviation security officers in charge of scanning the consignment had been suspended from their jobs.

Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau confiscated the consignment on a China Airlines cargo aircraft on November 17.

They told local media that 600 packages of heroin, estimated to be worth US$300 million, had been smeared with chocolate to avoid  detection by dogs.

The aircraft departed from Penang, Malaysia, and transited in HCMC before arriving at Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport.

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, according to investigators.

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


In the meantime, the Vietnamese media reported that Le Hoa Trading and Forwarding Co. Ltd in HCMC's District 1 sent the consignment through Air Sea WorldWide Vietnam Logistics Co. Ltd, also in HCMC.

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

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

The representative reportedly refused to reveal the owner's identity, saying that police investigation was ongoing.

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