Vietnamese weigh in on release of flight attendants nabbed with illegal drugs

Police released them due to a lack of evidence, though they could have received a heavy sentence.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.03.24
Vietnamese weigh in on release of flight attendants nabbed with illegal drugs Airport customs officers inspect toothpaste tubes containing illegal drugs found in the luggage of four Vietnam Airlines flight attendants at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, March 16, 2023.
Bao Nguoi Lao Dong (Labor Newspaper)

The release of four flight attendants caught illegally bringing a stash of narcotics hidden in toothpaste tubes into Vietnam has sparked a wide range of reactions, with some people astonished that they escaped harsh punishment and others more supportive of the decision to free them.

“Oh my God, how come they were released after transporting over 11 kilograms of drugs?” said Facebooker Minh Duc. “Taking this job is a good choice. If arrested, just say someone asked you to carry the stuff, and you don’t know [it contained drugs]...” 

Radio Free Asia reader Dieu Hanh said the case was “quite weird” because Vietnam has a long tradition of imprisoning people who bring drugs to the country illegally, even if they say they were forced to do so. 

“Some even were sentenced to death,” said Hanh. “Don’t expect you will be released when testifying that you did not know it was illegal drugs. 

Hanh went on to say that the flight attendants must have influential parents who managed to get them off the hook.

“In Vietnam, it’s not easy to have a job at Vietnam Airlines if you are not the children of someone [who has power or money],” Hanh said. “If they were commoners’ children, they would be jailed for years.”

Those caught with more than one kilogram of illegal drugs can receive up to 20 years or life imprisonment or the death sentence, attorney Dang Dinh Manh said in a Facebook post on March 21, before the flight attendants were released.

Under Vietnamese law, the crime of drug trafficking is determined on the basis of “intentional fault,” so that the perpetrators must know they are transporting illegal narcotics to be guilty, he added. 

In 2000, a Vietnamese court handed down a death sentence to Nguyen Thi Hiep, a Vietnamese Canadian, for smuggling narcotics. 

At that time, a Canadian foreign ministry spokesman said it was regrettable that two months before Hiep’s execution, Canada had provided the Vietnamese government with evidence, including video and audio files showing that she may have been forced into carrying drugs in her luggage when leaving Vietnam. The Vietnamese government did not consider the evidence, however. 

Another side

Other Vietnamese sided with the flight attendants.

Journalist Chau Doan wrote on his Facebook page that they were innocent because their “statements were very consistent, indicating they were naïve [and] innocent, [but] not dishonest.” 

Attorney Tran Dai Lam from Hanoi told RFA on Thursday that he believes the decision by Ho Chi Minh City police to release the four flight attendants was acceptable in legal terms. 

“In this case, if the police later cannot prove their crime, we should see it as a legal precedent and apply it to similar cases that did occur, are occurring, or will occur in the coming time,” he said. “We cannot convict a person hastily with the intention to punish him or her by all means.”  

Other netizens said many Vietnam Airlines staff, including flight captains and co-captains had been involved in drug trafficking, so the case of the four flight attendants was not that unusual. 

In April 2008, Vietnam Airlines’ pilot Lai Quoc Viet was arrested in Australia and given a 9.5-year jail term for his involvement in a huge money-laundering and drug ring. 

Vietnam’s Civil Aviation Authority on Thursday barred the flight attendants from working in the airline industry the day after Ho Chi Minh City police let them go due to a lack of evidence. 

On March 16, customs officers at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City discovered more than 11 kilograms (25 lbs.) of MDMA, commonly referred to as ecstasy, ketamine and cocaine, in scores of toothpaste tubes in their luggage. The flight attendants said they agreed to transport the tubes for an unidentified individual in Paris, where the flight originates, for more than 10 million dong, or U.S. $424.

Police detained the women, who said they were unaware of the contents, and searched their homes. They released the flight attendants on Wednesday due to insufficient evidence, and the following day civil aviation authorities banned them from working in the airline industry. 

An unnamed civil aviation official said the decision to bar them from working in the industry was based on Ministry of Transport regulations on specific labor discipline for airline employees, state media reported. 

The regulation stipulates that “enterprises in the civil aviation industry are not to employ those who have abused their position to trade and transport humans, assets and goods illegally.” 

The official also said there were loopholes in regulations that made combating and preventing smuggling in the aviation industry difficult. 

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Matt Reed.

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