Vietnam’s one ton meth bust was a five month operation

By Phuong Son, Bao Ngoc   March 25, 2019 | 10:23 pm PT
Vietnam’s one ton meth bust was a five month operation
About 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of methamphetamine seized in Ho Chi Minh City on March 20, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Quoc Thang
When occupants of a pick-up truck fled after a failed attempt to bribe the police, an earnest investigation was launched.

The investigation began last October when traffic police in Quang Binh Province in central Vietnam, which shares a border with Laos, stopped a pick-up on a highway.

Two men in the vehicle tried to bribe the police. When the police rejected the attempt and decided to check the back of the vehicle, they fled into a nearby forest.

The traffic police stumbled on 309 kilos of methamphetamine that day.

Police later found one of the two men, a 24-year-old Lao national named Xeng Vang.

Xeng Vang told the police that he was paid more than VND200 million ($8,600) to travel over 440 km (275 miles) along the central region, taking the drug from Ha Tinh Province bordering Laos to Da Nang, the biggest city in central Vietnam.

Given the high amount of drugs seized, the Minister of Public Security, To Lam, assigned the Drug Crime Investigation Department to expand investigation.

Investigators found that a trafficking ring run by a Chinese group was transporting the meth from the Golden Triangle into Vietnam. In some cases, Vietnam was a transit point for drugs to be distributed to other countries later.

On February 12 this year, after four months of tracking down the ring, the department sent 200 armed officers to Ha Tinh to take down Vang Cheyang Briachear, another Lao national, and seized 294 kilos of meth.

The 26-year-old was on his way from Laos to Vietnam.

Investigators kept the ring under surveillance and identified its leader as a Chinese man named Wu Heshan, 56.

They found that after the two failures in Quang Binh and Ha Tinh, Wu reinforced his gang and chose the Bo Y border gate in Kon Tum, a Central Highlands province, to transport the drug from Laos to Vietnam.

According to investigators, Wu operated his drug ring under the cover of a garment firm in the outlying district of Binh Tan in Ho Chi Minh City.

They said that the garment company, Hasan, is registered in the name of a Vietnamese woman in her 40s, believed to be a girlfriend of the Chinese drug lord.

In the five years since Hasan was established, it had only 40 customs declaration forms for garment products and its warehouse was tightly guarded around the clock, which made police suspicious.

Members of the ring rented apartments or stayed in hotels near the company.

The company hired Vietnamese guards, but no one was allowed to know what they were guarding, they said.

Every time the "goods" arrived, the guards would be told to stay away.

On March 19, police decided to take action after they found out that Wu had assigned a team to transport around 300 kilos of meth from Kon Tum to HCMC, from where the drug would be taken to Taiwan.

To bust this case, major-general Pham Van Cac, head of the Drug Crime Investigation Department, traveled from Hanoi to HCMC to guide the investigation.

Seven teams with nearly 300 officers were set up to keep a close watch at four places suspected of hiding the drugs.

Police raided a meth warehouse in Ho Chi Minh City on March 20, 2019

On March 20, a raid was carried out by officers from the Ministry of Public Security's Drug Crime Investigation Department in coordination with the Southern Border Guard's Special Forces, HCMC police and police from the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong.

Dozens of armed mobile police officers, plainclothes policemen and border guards raided the warehouse of Hasan.

16 Chinese including Wu, three Vietnamese and one Lao national were detained and a pickup truck transporting about 300 kilos of meth was seized.

As they continued their investigation, police discovered that Wu’s gang had transported 270 kilos of meth to the Philippines via the sea.

On March 22, Vietnam customs police and Filipino police joined hands to seize that drug consignment.

With 300 kilos of meth in HCMC, 309 kilos in Quang Binh, nearly 300 kilos in Ha Tinh and more than 270 kilos on the way to the Philippines, Wu’s ring is the biggest that the public security ministry has ever investigated and busted to date.

The drug crime department is continuing its investigation and looking to track down more gang members.

Vietnam is a key trafficking hub for narcotics around the Golden Triangle, an intersection of China, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar and the world's second-largest drug producing region.

It 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.

While heroin has long been common among users in Vietnam, the use of synthetic drugs like meth or ecstasy is on the rise, especially among youth.

Seven people died after using drugs at an electronic music festival in September last year in Hanoi, sparking off an alarm and prompting tougher crackdowns.

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