In a country with some of the toughest drug laws in the world, an American man has been sentenced to death for attempting to smuggle drugs out of Vietnam. 41-year-old Jason Dinh, a Vietnamese American, was found guilty and given the death sentence for trying to smuggle more than 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of heroin from Vietnam to Australia.
Dinh, an automobile mechanic in the United States, has been imprisoned since last June. This week’s indictment states that at about 6 p.m. on June 12, 2013, at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, customs officials’ scanners picked up three plastic bags in Dinh’s underwear. He was preparing to board a plane to Australia. The bags contained white powder, which was later identified as heroin through laboratory analysis.
For many years Vietnam has been used as a connecting point for moving drugs from China, Myanmar, and Laos to other Asian countries and Australia. The renowned “Golden Triangle,” a hotspot of the world’s narcotics production, borders Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar. Myanmar is identified as the “world’s second largest producer of illicit opium” in the CIA fact book. The region was previously one of the world’s top producers of heroin and opium, until Afghanistan took over that distinction.
The Southeast Asian country has punishment up to life in prison or death for transporting, trafficking, or illegally producing as little as 100 grams (.1 kilograms) of heroin, and according to the Vietnamese Criminal Code, in cases of possession of more than 1.3 pounds the death sentence is mandatory. The American man was sentenced by the People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday, in a one-day hearing.
Dinh said he had a gambling debt that he hoped to pay off by working for a Middle Eastern man known only as Michael, who gave Dinh $4,500 for an airline ticket to Vietnam. Dihn had accrued the debt in January 2013 when he gambled at a casino in Las Vegas with Michael. Michael loaned him $20,000 after Dinh lost all his money.
Dinh arrived at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City on June 7, where he met up with Michael. A few days later Michael said that there was no job for Dinh that he could use to pay off his debt, but he could work it off by transporting the three plastic bags to Australia. Michael told Dinh he would pay off his gambling debt and give Dinh another $10,000 if he got to Australia. Dinh never made it onto the plane before he was arrested.
In January Vietnam sentenced 30 heroin smugglers to death for trafficking over 12 tons. All 30 were Vietnamese. In the same sentencing, 59 other defendants were given a variety of punishments, including life in prison. The bust was Vietnam’s largest-ever narcotics case. And in August 2013 a Nigerian man and a Thai woman were sentenced to death for transporting drugs into Vietnam.
Prior to 2013 Vietnam executed prisoners by firing squad. Since 2013 they have used lethal injection. In 2007 alone, 85 people were executed on drug related offenses. Dinh has 15 days to appeal his heroin smuggling conviction and death sentence.
By Beth A. Balen