August 28, 2018 / 10:31 AM / in 2 months

Vietnam sentences South African drug smuggler to death

HANOI, Aug 28 (Reuters) - A Vietnamese court has sentenced a South African man to death for smuggling cocaine from Brazil into the Southeast Asian country, state media reported on Tuesday.

Tyron Lee Coetzee, 34, was arrested at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat Airport in June, 2016, carrying 1.46 kg of cocaine in his luggage, the Ho Chi Minh City Law newspaper reported, citing a copy of the indictment.

“He confessed to Vietnamese investigators that he had been hired by a Nigerian man to smuggle cocaine into Ho Chi Minh City from Brazil, via a transfer in Dubai,” the newspaper reported, adding that Coetzee had been offered $3,500 to carry the drugs.

Coetzee’s trial had began in May last year but was temporarily suspended after the 34-year-old said he suffered from schizophrenia, according to the newspaper.

A group called Missing Children South Africa reported him missing in June last year, the group said on its Twitter page. Coetzee was “last seen on his way to Port Elizabeth” in May, 2016, the group said.

The South African Embassy in Hanoi was unable to provide any immediate comment on the case.

Drugs like marijuana are illegal yet consumed widely in Vietnam, but transporting 100 grammes or more of cocaine is a criminal offence, punishable by death.

In recent years, Vietnam has sentenced several foreigners to death for drug trafficking offences, but the Communist-ruled country keeps a tight lid on information and it is not clear if their executions have been carried out.

Police tackled over 13,000 drug-related cases in the first half of this year, an 8.7 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Public Security’s counter-narcotics department.

Vietnamese authorities arrested 18,500 drug traffickers, seized 880 kg of heroin, 414 kg of methamphetamine and 1.3 tonnes of marijuana and opium during that period, the department said.

Separately, border guards in the central province of Quang Tri arrested a man from Laos on Tuesday who was attempting to bring 65,800 synthetic drug tablets into Vietnam, the Ministry of Public Security said. (Reporting by Khanh Vu and James Pearson)

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