Vietnam sentences 30 to death from smuggling drugs from Laos
Scores of defendants from four syndicates arrested and nearly two tonnes of heroin seized in Vietnam's biggest narcotics case on record
Vietnam has sentenced 30 drug smugglers to death in the country's largest narcotics case, involving scores of defendants and nearly two tonnes of heroin.
The 30 men and women, all Vietnamese, were found guilty of drug trafficking and given the death penalty, while a further 59 defendants were handed sentences ranging up to life in prison in connection with the case.
"This was Vietnam's largest ever trial in terms of defendants, the number of death penalties given out and the amount of heroin involved," presiding judge Ngo Duc said after the verdict was read out in the province of Quang Ninh, which borders China.
"Because of the large number of defendants and the seriousness of the case, the trial was held at the prison," the judge added.
The trial lasted 17 days.
Investigators said the defendants belonged to four international smuggling rings responsible for trafficking heroin and other drugs from neighbouring Laos into Vietnam and China since 2006.
"All the defendants are Vietnamese and most of them came from Vietnam's northwestern provinces," a court clerk said.
Vietnam's remote northwestern region, which borders China and Laos, is poor and populated by ethnic minority groups.
There have been previous smuggling cases in the area, which is far from the control of Hanoi.
One of the leaders of the four smuggling rings broken up by the police bust remains at large.
Police disrupted the rings in August, making mass arrests and seizing large quantities of illegal drugs. They also confiscated 20 luxury cars and dozens of guns and other weapons.
Communist Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Anyone found guilty of possessing more than 600 grams of heroin, or more than 20 kilograms of opium, can face the death penalty.
Convictions and sentences are usually revealed only by local media, which is strictly under state control.
The "golden triangle" region of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar was formerly one of the world's top producers of illicit opium and heroin but has been overtaken by Afghanistan.
After a two-year hiatus in carrying out capital punishment due to problems procuring chemicals for lethal injections, Vietnam executed its first prisoner by the method last August.
The country now has more than 600 prisoners on death row.
Many, including dozens of foreigners, have been sentenced for drug offences, although it has been decades since a foreign citizen was executed.
Although the country does not release statistics on executions, Amnesty International recorded 86 new death sentences in 2012.
Due to problems getting the chemicals for lethal injections, some lawmakers want a return to executions by firing squad.