Cold War movie

Kingpin leaves a deadly legacy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 March, 1998, 12:00am

It was a case that shattered the innocence of a Hanoi long insulated from the perils of the international drug trade, and it took a 'gallows confession' to bring it to light.

The deadly legacy of police officer turned heroin kingpin Captain Vu Xuan Truong remains a fixture on the streets of Hanoi.

In the dirt-poor northwestern mountains of Dien Bien Phu, Truong remains a folk legend for building a fortune through contacts in the nearby Golden Triangle while working as a senior provincial official.

'Everybody liked him. He would buy a bottle of cognac, take one glass and leave the bottle,' one shoeless friend in the town's market said.

'He spent dollars everywhere he went. We all struggle to have chicken in our soup . . . He was rich beyond imagination. We all knew something was going on. But we still think others were above him.' Thousands of youngsters - many the children of regime officials - remain hooked to a supply so plentiful that high-grade Golden Triangle heroin is cheaper in Hanoi than virtually any other city.

The well-protected syndicate mirrored the rise of Truong through national police ranks and ended the career of at least one official above him who was never brought to court.

By the time Truong moved to Hanoi after a promotion, an estimated 300 kilograms of heroin had reached the capital.

A Laotian courier, Sieng Pheng, was captured and convicted after an investigation initially manipulated by Truong and his cronies.

A mercy plea hours before the courier was due to be shot named Truong and several others.

Presidential intervention blew the case open and saved the life of Pheng, who is now serving a prison sentence.