Cablegate: Large Drug Case in Lai Chau Province Results

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 02 Hanoi 618

1. (U) SUMMARY. Vietnam's state-controlled media gave
prominent coverage to what was described as the "largest
drug case ever" in the northwestern province of Lai Chau.
The trial concluded on March 14, with the provincial
people's court handing down six death sentences (two others
had also been sentenced to death last June), 11 life
imprisonments, and other lengthy prison terms. The case
also gained prominence due to the unusual murder of an
undercover police officer. Relative to the probable large
quantities of heroin transiting the province, the amount
seized during this case was relatively modest. END SUMMARY


2. (U) Lai Chau province in northwestern Vietnam shares
borders of 180 miles with the PRC and 215 miles with Laos.
It is one of Vietnam's premier drug "hotspots" (reftel) as a
main smuggling route for Golden Triangle heroin and, more
recently, for amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). Bui Xuan
Hieu, Chief of the International Cooperation and Project
Management Division in the national Standing Office for Drug
Control, reaffirmed to Pol FSN on April 1 that the drug
situation in the province remained "very difficult,"
especially around the Tay Trang border crossing area. He
noted that, at a conference to review drug control and
prostitution prevention held in Hanoi this past March, Prime
Minister Phan Van Khai had expressed special concern over
the "serious" drug trafficking from the province. Hieu (who
attended the conference) recalled that the Prime Minister
had instructed that all "relevant law enforcement agencies"
in Lai Chau province pursue a more coordinated approach to
battle the traffickers.


3. (U) According to the "People's Police" newspaper, Lai
Chau counternarcotics police first detected the case in
September 2001. Several suspects, in an attempt to escape
arrest, murdered an undercover police lieutenant. Three
suspects were eventually arrested; two received death
sentences in June 2002 for the police officer's murder.
Subsequently, 27 accomplices were arrested; 24 stood trial
in Lai Chau in March 2003. On March 14, Lai Chau People's
Court handed down four additional death sentences, eleven
life sentences, and seven other long prison sentences.
These defendants were convicted of trafficking about ninety
kilograms of heroin over the past seven years from Laos via
the Tay Trang border area, through Lai Chau province, and on
to Hanoi and Thanh Hoa province (about 100 miles south of


4. (U) Without citing specific details, Nguyen Van Hanh,
Director of the Lai Chau People's Committee Foreign Affairs
Office, told FSN that the provincial counternarcotics police
are developing other drug trafficking cases based on
information obtained from these defendants. Hanh claimed
that "even larger" cases will come to light in the "near
future," possibly involving provincial officials.


5. (SBU) Despite the public trumpeting of this case and
the harsh sentences, there is less here than meets the eye.
While the seizures from this case were significant by local
standards, foreign law enforcement sources, the UN, and
DEA's Hanoi Country Office estimate that perhaps "hundreds"
of kilograms of heroin are transiting Lai Chau province
annually. Nationwide, at least 55 people were executed for
drug offenses last year; according to Vietnamese law,
possession of even 300 grams of heroin can result in the
death penalty.

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