Police seize mafia arsenal

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 1994, 12:00am

POISONOUS gas canisters, machine-gun ammunition and weapons have been seized from a restaurant and brothel housed in a former military tennis club in the coastal city of Nha Trang in one of the first crackdowns against the Vietnamese mafia.

Two top Vietnamese gangsters - including one former terrorist known as the 'Palestinian' - are facing prosecution along with 27 gang members and prostitutes.

The latest issue of the Vietnamese Commerce described the arrests as one of the first signs of re-emergence of the mafia - a 'case of special seriousness not known since 1975'.

The paper said Hanoi men Pham Chi Tim - the Palestinian - and Nguyen Trong Huan, both in their mid-30s - rented an army tennis club from a retired officer who wanted 'easy money'.

Tin had a background in torture, extortion and organising the escape of boat people. Under his guidance, the club turned into brothel and restaurant guarded by more than 20 escaped prisoners and wanted criminals.

Killing-to-order, blackmail and kidnapping were all organised from the restaurant on one of the city's prime waterfront sites.

'In their hands, the restaurant quickly became a top den for depraved and licentious living in Nha Trang,' the report said.

The complex quickly 'outweighed' competing hotel and restaurants, with drivers employed to hang around rival businesses and bus and railway stations to lure customers and future prostitutes - sometimes by force. Raids over the past two months followed investigations by a crack team of Interior Ministry officers.

The officers were called in after a string of kidnappings, torture and robbery starting in January when four border police were assaulted. The gang stretched into other southern provinces, kidnapping one man in the rival restort town of Vung Tau and forcing him under torture to sign an IOU for US$20,000 (HK$154,540).