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Cablegate: Vietnam's Largest Drug Case Ever

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: Hanoi 663

1. (U) Summary and Comment: Recent counternarcotics
successes, culminating in the arrest of the key members of a
drug syndicate billed as the nation's largest ever, have not
lifted the flagging spirits of Vietnam's counterdrug
officers. Departing from their usual relentlessly
optimistic propaganda, GVN police have acknowledged that
trafficking into Vietnam is increasing and that enforcement
and interdiction efforts are not deterring traffickers from
pursuing the astronomical profits available to them. Based
on what we know and are continuing to learn about the extent
of the drug problem here, it appears that U.S. assistance in
this fight - although modest - is well leveraged and
targeted in the right places. End Summary and Comment.

2. (U) Vietnam's state-controlled media has recently given
prominent coverage to what was described as the "largest
drug case ever" in Vietnam. The Ministry of Public Security
(MPS) began its official investigation of 47 suspects
arrested in connection with the case. The network is
believed to have moved nearly 2000 pounds of heroin into
Vietnam between the years 2000 and 2003. According to one
deputy director in the Ho Chi Minh City Police, revenues of
this "syndicate" exceeded the revenues of some Vietnamese
provinces. The trial is expected to begin by December 2004.

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3. (U) According to press articles, MPS and UNODC sources,
the "syndicate" formed when drug criminals Nguyen Van Hai
and Nguyen Dinh Hoanh met in prison in 1983 and reached its
peak in terms of membership and activity in August 2002. In
June 2003, Hoanh was arrested at Lao Bao border crossing for
transporting approximately 60 kilograms of heroin. Hoanh
and Hai worked together to smuggle heroin from Laos into
Vietnam for consumption in Dong Nai Province and Ho Chi Minh
City. In addition to the Hoanh-Hai syndicate, Hai also set
up his own network to bring drugs into the country via Tay
Ninh Province, which sits between Ho Chi Minh City and the
Cambodia border. Between 2000 and 2003, according to
various reports, the syndicate brought in 800 to 900
kilograms of heroin. MPS has started a formal investigation
against 47 individuals, 20 of whom are still at large.


4. (U) In addition to traditional "hotspots" (a Vietnamese
police term for an area of increased drug consumption),
drugs can now be found in every corner of the country.
During a conference to "share experiences in combating
complicated hotspots" held in Haiphong on September 21,
General Pham Van Duc, Deputy Director of the MPS General
Department of Police, acknowledged "negative developments"
in the country's drug situation. However, he noted, the
police had cracked down on 3,000 hotspots throughout Vietnam
between 2001 and 2004, and opened 5,600 cases and seized 180
kilograms of heroin during the first eight months of 2004.
(Note: This is a substantial increase over the same period
last year, which saw an increase over the year before. See
reftel for more on 2004 anti-drug efforts by the GVN. End


5. (U) The GVN is facing a classic dilemma: the more success
it has in uncovering drug trafficking, the more it learns
about the scope of the problem. Previously, the drug
problem could be whitewashed with official propaganda about
successful drug raids and effective prevention plans; as
long as the drugs were invisible, the government could
pretend they were not there. Now, however, GVN anti-drug
forces are having some successes - seizures are way up from
previous years - and the information gained from these
successes and reported in the press is shining an
uncomfortable spotlight on the magnitude of the drug
trafficking problem here. MPS seems not to have figured out
how to spin the recent seizures and arrests as a victory for
law enforcement efforts rather than as proof of failure;
instead, it has either provided strangely inaccurate
information (such as press reports in June hailing a 21
percent reduction in drug crimes) or kept quiet about drug
statistics altogether. In this context, General Duc's
openness at the Haiphong meeting was an improvement. Based
on what we know and are continuing to learn about the extent
of the drug problem here, it appears that the assistance we
are providing - in the form of training for customs and
border officials, and through UNODC to cover the main drug
crossing routes into the country - is targeting the right
geographical regions and strengthening GVN capacity in the
areas it is most needed. End Comment.

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