The trial this week of Hanoi's first alleged 'godfather' is proving a stern test for Vietnam's emerging legal system, keen to thwart corruption and organised crime. Several key witnesses to the allegations against Duong Van Khanh have failed to appear at crucial times during the trial, expected to last two weeks. And court sources say police are having trouble locating other witnesses, indicating that the gangster's network is still firmly in place. Known as 'White Khanh', he allegedly worked his way from cyclo-boy and market porter to rule the biggest gangland network to emerge on the underbelly of Vietnam's reforms. Khanh is on trial with 23 others on charges including murder, rape, robbery and tax evasion. More than 72 witnesses are scheduled to appear. So far he has appeared a model of serenity in the People's Court, where he stands each day with three lawyers. Official reports claim Khanh built a union of market porters into a gang 500-strong that controlled protection and extortion rackets across the capital. Khanh is also said to have built up underworld connections in free-wheeling border and resort towns across the country, from Lang Son on the Chinese border to the oil centre of Vung Tau on the Mekong Delta. Never before has such a network emerged in modern Vietnam, where police maintain an extensive grassroots force that allows little room for mafia-style operations to take hold. Acid-scarred, tall and elegantly dressed, he sought acceptance in classic mafia style through high-level connections and donations to charities, while turning his small market trade union for porters into a 'black society'. But 18 months ago police swooped on Khanh following top-level outrage at the brazen appearance of the leader and his gang on the streets of Hanoi.