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Top drug defendant in Hanoi confesses to heroin possession

May 3, 1997

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) _ The top defendant in Vietnam’s largest-ever drug trial has confessed to transporting and storing heroin as part of a multinational narcotics ring involving law enforcement and border agencies.

Vu Xuan Truong, a former police inspector, is one of 22 people charged with smuggling hundreds of pounds of heroin across the Laotian border and into the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

Truong, who prosecutors say was the leader of the ring, said Friday that he held the heroin for friends and moved it inside Vietnam _ but denied smuggling any across the border, the state-run Labor newspaper reported.

``It is a complex trick used by drug traders,″ Truong was quoted as saying by Labor. ``You ask a police captain to keep the heroin and it is safest.″

The presiding judge has predicted death sentences for up to 10 of the defendants, who are accused of using vehicles from the powerful Interior Ministry to smuggle heroin from Laos. Truong is among those likely to face execution. Presumption of guilt is the norm in Vietnam’s criminal justice system, with trials largely aimed at determining punishment.

The trial adjourned today and was set to resume Monday. Twelve more people will face trial at a later date.

The trial was closed to foreign reporters after Truong threatened to implicate top officials in the Interior Ministry, which controls border security.

With its carefully controlled media coverage of the trial, the Vietnamese government hopes to publicize its efforts to clamp down on drug use and trafficking, while censoring testimony that could mar the ministry’s reputation.

Truong’s confession came during the trial’s opening day, but was reported today in Vietnam’s state-controlled media.

Among the defendants are 11 police officers, border guards and customs inspectors. All face drug smuggling and transportation charges along with a range of weapons charges in modern Vietnam’s largest narcotics case ever.

``In order to secure the shipping of narcotics into Vietnam and distribute it, Truong and his associates have used every trick to influence some government officials,″ chief prosecutor Nguyen Van Tu told the jury and panel of five judges.

Tu said an intricate system was used to smuggle heroin in false car doors and hollowed-out truck floorboards.

Vietnam is working to stem the flow of illegal drugs into its cities through stiff penalties and a public campaign on the dangers of narcotics.

Update hourly