How Saigon's feared drug lord was trapped

By Quoc Thang   July 20, 2018 | 04:40 pm PT
It took years of observation and several months of careful planning before the final operation to capture a very careful drug lord in Vietnam.

Police have affirmed that the capture of Phan Huu Hieu, the kingpin behind the large-scale transnational trafficking of narcotics from Laos into Vietnam was the culmination of a trap that was months in the making.

Hieu, nicknamed “Mouse” in the drug underworld, and six other accomplices were arrested during the crackdown that seized 59 kilograms of heroin, hundreds of thousands of dollars, two high-end cars, foreign currency and sealed 15 houses and other properties.

“This is the biggest heroin seizure we’ve made in Ho Chi Minh City,” an unnamed police officer said.

Pham Huu Hieu (in glasses) is arrested by police in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Giao Thong Newspaper

Pham Huu Hieu (in glasses) is arrested by police in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Giao Thong Newspaper

Early start

Hieu, 48, was born into a poor family in the central province of Nghe An. He dropped out of school at a younger age because of difficult family conditions to work for “big names” in the drug trafficking world.

Building on his experience of many years, Hieu struck out on his own, expanding his drug trafficking network in HCMC and nearby provinces like Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Tay Ninh, the Voice of Vietnam reported.

He also teamed up with notorious drug dealers in Laos to transport a large quantity of narcotics including heroin into Vietnam through several border gates.

Very sophisticated and discreet operations had made it difficult for anti-drug forces to investigate.

The poor kid from the countryside went on to become a famous and feared figure in the underworld, and his extravagant lifestyle did not go unnoticed.

He lived with his family in a luxury apartment in Tan Phu District, an hour’s drive to the west of downtown HCMC. He owned many houses, farms and other properties worth millions of dollars.

He got into close relationships with many young and beautiful women, and his willingness to spend money buying them expensive gifts including houses was also noticed.

But Hieu was also a superstitious man. Before carrying out a large-scale trafficking operation, he would not stay close to his lovers or make love to them or his wife in order to avoid bad luck. He also consulted fortune tellers to predict the “best time” for carrying out transactions and offered prayers and incense in pagodas before an operation began.

Difficult to catch

Police said they’d been watching Hieu for a long time, but he took each action with extreme care.

So the police had no choice but to be very patient and carefully amass evidence before planning an intervention, which also had to be planned with great care.

Before the final crackdown, police had to “live in dangerous conditions” for about three months to get closer and study the modus operandi of Hieu’s drug trafficking ring, and follow the drug lord as he made frequent flights back to Nghe An, his hometown.

The police say that the ring always transferred drugs from Laos to the central city of Da Nang, and two of Hieu’s close accomplices, Bui Dinh Trung, 48, and Nguyen Thanh Nam, 37, drove their car to receive the drugs and hide them in a small house on Tan Son Nhi Street in Tan Phu District before distributing them to other areas.

After months of staking out the drug ring, police officers spotted Hieu flying back to his hometown in Nghe An on July 11 and cross the border gate to go to Laos to meet his partners and place an order.  

When Hieu returned to Vietnam through Cau Treo border gate in the central province of Ha Tinh, his associates had driven their car from Saigon to Da Nang.

A day later, hundreds of police officers surrounded the apartment block where Hieu lived in Tan Phu District and caught Hieu red-handed in a transaction involving in 19.8 kilograms of heroin.  

A large quantity of heroin are seized during a crackdown against Hieus drug trafficking ring. 

A large quantity of heroin is seized during a crackdown against Hieu's drug trafficking ring. Photo courtesy of HCMC Police

Simultaneously, groups of police officers raided dozens of different locations in Districts 1, 3, 8 and the neighboring province of Binh Duong and arrested six other accomplices.

This was only the first step in a long-term fight that Vietnamese police have been waging, in cooperation with their counterparts in neighboring Laos, against transnational drug trafficking rings that were bringing drugs into Vietnam through the border gates, a leader of the Anti-Drug Trafficking Department told VnExpress.

Vietnam is a key trafficking hub for narcotics in and around the “Golden Triangle,” a lawless wedge of land that intersects China, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar and is the world's second largest drug producing region.

Vietnam also has some of the world’s toughest drug laws. Those convicted of possessing or smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine face the death penalty. The production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of other illegal narcotics is also punishable by death.

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