Vietnamese police bust MDMA ring on heels of airline arrests

A raid nabbed 21 people accused of producing nearly half a million pills from imported powder.
By Joshua Lipes
Vietnamese police bust MDMA ring on heels of airline arrests Drugs seized by police.
State media/HCMC Public Security Newspaper

Authorities in southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City are on a drug busting tear, following the discovery by customs officers last month of MDMA, ketamine and cocaine hidden inside 156 toothpaste tubes in the baggage of Vietnam Airlines crew members.

On Friday, police announced they had shut down a Vietnam-based MDMA ring that allegedly imported some 106 kilograms (233 lbs.) of the drug in pure powder form from Vietnamese living in France via international postal services since late 2021, according to a report by the official HCMC Public Security Online Newspaper.

The ring, led by a man known as Tri Whale (Tri “Ca Voi”), is accused of using the powder to produce more than 450,000 finished ecstasy pills, weighing some 230 kilograms (506 pounds), for domestic sale. The ring sold the pills in Ho Chi Minh and other localities for “tens of billions” of Vietnamese dong (10 billion dong = U.S.$426,000), the report said.

On April 24, police arrested 21 people, including Tri Whale, for the illegal production and trade of MDMA following a raid on the ring’s lab in District 4 and searches of 16 residential homes. During the raid, authorities confiscated 18,000 ecstasy pills, 900 grams of ketamine, 120 sachets of a synthetic drug cocktail known as “happy water” – and 21 packets containing a colorless crystalline substance, as well as lab equipment used to produce the drugs.

The latest bust comes days after police in Ho Chi Minh announced the prosecution of 65 people in an expanded investigation into the March 16 arrest of four flight attendants arriving on an international flight from Paris, who told authorities that someone in France paid them more than 10 million dong, or about U.S.$425, to help transport “some goods” to Vietnam.

The flight attendants were carrying 112 toothpaste tubes containing 8.4 kilograms (18.5 lbs.) of gray tablets and 42 toothpaste tubes containing 3 kilograms (6.7 lbs.) of white powder. They said they were unaware of the narcotics and didn’t know the identity of the person who asked them to transport the tubes. 

No drugs were found during searches of their homes, and they were released due to lack of evidence.

Authorities have discovered six other cases in which a Vietnamese resident of France paid Vietnamese people studying or living in France to bring drugs hidden in toothpaste tubes and dietary supplement boxes into Vietnam through Hanoi’s airport. 

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


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