29 Jul 2004

Mother begs for drug smuggler's life

July 27, 2004

By Kimina Lyall

"PLEASE forgive him." This was the singular plea from Melbourne mother Nguyen Kim yesterday as she clung to her last thread of hope that the Singapore Court of Appeal would yet overrule her son's death sentence.

Nguyen Tuong Van, 23, was sentenced to hang by the Singapore High Court in March for attempting to smuggle 396 grams of heroin. He was caught during transit in Changi airport on a trip from Cambodia to Melbourne in January last year.

His fate as potentially the first Australian to be executed by a foreign government in a decade now rests with the thoughts of three of Singapore's most senior judges on a technical point regarding the weight of the drugs.

Ms Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee who gave birth to twin boys in a Thai refugee camp before migrating to Australia when they were babies, travelled to Singapore in the belief that the judges, who had received written submissions from lawyers, might make their final ruling on whether her son goes to the gallows later this year. But after hearing legal arguments for 20 minutes, the three-judge court of appeal, led by Chief Justice Yong Pung How, reserved its decision.

A pale Nguyen, who had told officials that he had smuggled the drugs to help pay the debts of his twin brother, stared without expression at his tearful mother as he was led away from the hearing yesterday.

His life appears to rest on whether the judges overrule the High Court's decision to admit as evidence his own statements to narcotics officers after he was caught with the drugs, along with the drugs themselves.

Nguyen was convicted in April largely on the basis of the elaborate explanation he gave to narcotics officers who discovered a plastic bag of heroin strapped to his back when he passed through security checks as he was preparing to board a Qantas flight to Melbourne.

His lawyers say the story, which detailed how, where and why he bought the drugs, was not a confession as he had not been informed of his rights to have legal representation before he spoke.

They also question the integrity of the drugs themselves. According to evidence at the earlier trial, the two bags of drugs were not immediately sealed after their discovery, and were removed from the investigating officer's cabinet during the night.

The lawyers also point out that the two bags of drugs weighed less than an initial measurement when they were tested in a laboratory. One of them weighed more than the other in one test, while the difference was reversed in a second test. They argue the discrepancy - amounting to eight grams - raises doubts about the integrity of the exhibits. If the drugs, and Nguyen's statements admitting he carried them, are ruled inadmissible, they believe the prosecution has no case.

Nguyen's lawyers also believe Singapore's mandatory death sentence is unconstitutional because it removes the power of judges to take into account individual circumstances of a case. Under Singaporean law, anyone convicted of carrying more than 15 grams of heroin must be hanged.

Amnesty International says Singapore has the highest rate of government-sanctioned executions per capita in the world, killing more than 400 people since the law was introduced in 1975.

If Nguyen loses his appeal, only a presidential pardon can save him from the gallows. Singapore has never executed an Australian. Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has written to his counterpart arguing compassionate circumstances should be considered in the case.

For now, Ms Nguyen is relieved the judges appear to be considering the arguments of her son's lawyers.

"I have a little bit of hope still," she told The Australian after yesterday's hearing.


Anonymous said...

Van Nguyen was my friend. Yes what he did was very stupid, but he is a decent man. He does not deserve to lose his life because of this. Trust me, he will have learnt his lesson. I just hope his bloody brother has too. People need to be thinking of him. People need to be aware of exactly whats going on. Why isn't there better coverage of this story? This man is my friend and yet i can find out nothing. I don't even know if he is still with us, because they won't tell us until the fateful deed is done. I just have to keep hoping that somehow he will get through this.

Anonymous said...

I care, I am still writing, begging for mercy,I am sure he has learnt his lesson,I also think his brother has a very large burden to carry, As his friend, I am sure he would want you to forgive his brother, after all, this is the brother he loved so much, that he took such a risk.I hope and pray he is pardoned,

Once we are born, we begin to die said...

Well if he breaks the law, he faces the consequences. If everyone can pussy out of a death sentence just because their mother begs for them not to hang her son, then what would be the purpose of the punishment in the first place?
And why should Van Nguyen be treated any different from any other person who has smuggled heroin into Singapore? Being Australian gives him a higher status? Bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Nonsense are you talking about? I don't see why he should be treated any differently from any other drug trafficker.

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