1 Dec 2006

Nguyen died, but 'big fish' still active

Nick McKenzie
December 2, 2006


THE Sydney man identified by executed drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van as the brains behind his attempt to smuggle heroin remains an active figure in a local Asian crime syndicate.

Nguyen was hanged a year ago in Singapore. In his sole interview with the Australian Federal Police in January last year, Nguyen identified the man, aged 36, as the organiser and financier of his trip to Cambodia to buy almost 400 grams of heroin in December 2002.

Nguyen was arrested at Singapore airport on his way back to Sydney from Cambodia. After AFP raids in 2003 linked to the Nguyen investigation, the organiser was convicted of minor drug possession charges and fined $2400.

Senior police sources told The Age the organiser, who can't be named for legal reasons, is a Vietnamese-born, middle ranking crime figure with strong links to organised crime groups in Sydney's south-west and in South-East Asia.

Nguyen told police in the interview, obtained by The Age, that the organiser dealt drugs "in big numbers" in Sydney and Melbourne and was helped by a Qantas airline steward to smuggle drugs into Australia.

Mr Nguyen's lawyer, Lex Lasry, QC, said he was angry that Australian authorities never charged the organiser with conspiracy to import heroin.

Mr Lasry said a prosecution could have been mounted on the basis of detailed information he had passed on to police on Nguyen's behalf in April 2003; the interview Nguyen gave the AFP in early 2005, and Nguyen's willingness to testify via video-link from Changi prison.

Mr Lasry said Singapore's hanging of Nguyen had destroyed any chance of a prosecution against the so-called "big fish" in the case. "I remember saying at the time that the one person in Australia celebrating Van's death is the person who procured his trip. No doubt he was very relieved that Van was executed because the story couldn't be told in a way that implicated him.

"It is horrible to think about but I am sure that is true."

The Age can reveal that just days before Nguyen's execution, Mr Lasry made repeated requests to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to explain why it had told police that there was not enough evidence to charge the organiser.

Mr Lasry said he had never received a satisfactory explanation about why Nguyen's evidence, along with that of a second witness present at a meeting with Nguyen and the organiser, could not sustain a criminal prosecution.

"I still don't really understand why and I still don't accept there was not enough evidence. I don't say it was an overwhelming case but there was a case to be made," Mr Lasry said.

He said that the charging of the organiser may have helped save Nguyen's life, because Singapore law allows for the pardoning of a trafficker who gives evidence against a principal offender.

The AFP maintains it has conducted thorough investigations into the Sydney syndicate, as a result of its own inquiries and Nguyen's information. It says it told Singapore that Nguyen had provided assistance with their ongoing inquiries.

It is believed the AFP's investigations were hampered by delays in obtaining information from Nguyen in Singapore, partly caused by a delay in his being granted access to Australian lawyers, but that police believed his account was accurate.

Nguyen's AFP interview provides a fresh insight into his progression from promising student to small-time drug dealer and, finally, a bumbling drug mule. He reveals he contacted the Sydney crime figure in 2002 to buy drugs to sell locally and only offered to be a drug mule after failing to find other couriers on behalf of the organiser.

Nguyen told police the organiser paid for his first-class airline ticket and gave him $13,000 to buy heroin in Cambodia.

He said a Qantas air steward had arranged for the heroin to be transferred to an airline worker during Nguyen's return flight to Sydney to help circumvent customs.

Van said he was assured the smuggling route had been tested and if he followed instructions "everything will be all right".

The Australian Lawyers Alliance yesterday called on the Federal Government to take a uniform stand against capital punishment. Alliance president Simon Morrison said the Government had weakened its ability to save the lives of Australian drug traffickers on death row because of its failure to speak out against the death penalty given to Saddam Hussein and some of the Bali bombers.

told police that there was not enough evidence to charge the organiser.

Mr Lasry said he had never received a satisfactory explanation about why Nguyen's evidence, along with that of a second witness present at a meeting with Nguyen and the organiser, could not sustain a criminal prosecution.

"I still don't really understand why and I still don't accept there was not enough evidence. I don't say it was an overwhelming case but there was a case to be made," Mr Lasry said.

He said that the charging of the organiser may have helped save Nguyen's life, because Singapore law allows for the pardoning of a trafficker who gives evidence against a principal offender.

The AFP maintains it has conducted thorough investigations into the Sydney syndicate, as a result of its own inquiries and Nguyen's information. It says it told Singapore that Nguyen had provided assistance with their ongoing inquiries.

It is believed the AFP's investigations were hampered by delays in obtaining information from Nguyen in Singapore, partly caused by a delay in his being granted access to Australian lawyers, but that police believed his account was accurate.

Nguyen's AFP interview provides a fresh insight into his progression from promising student to small-time drug dealer and, finally, a bumbling drug mule. He reveals he contacted the Sydney crime figure in 2002 to buy drugs to sell locally and only offered to be a drug mule after failing to find other couriers on behalf of the organiser.

Nguyen told police the organiser paid for his first-class airline ticket and gave him $13,000 to buy heroin in Cambodia.

He said a Qantas air steward had arranged for the heroin to be transferred to an airline worker during Nguyen's return flight to Sydney to help circumvent customs.

Van said he was assured the smuggling route had been tested and if he followed instructions "everything will be all right".

The Australian Lawyers Alliance yesterday called on the Federal Government to take a uniform stand against capital punishment. Alliance president Simon Morrison said the Government had weakened its ability to save the lives of Australian drug traffickers on death row because of its failure to speak out against the death penalty given to Saddam Hussein and some of the Bali bombers.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is both typicle and Indicative of the right wing Howard Government in Australia and the incompetance and uncaring nature of the Australian Federal Police . As is always the case its all about the middle man or the end user not the mr BIGS . Hardly surprising when the Singapore Gov has corrupt dealings with the Myanmar Gov !

matt said...

Singapore is not obligated to care about the BIGS. They don't want drugs here in sg, and they enforce the death penalty for such a crime. Someone gets caught committing the crime and pays the price.
It might be smart for the sg gov to use Nguyen to find out info about the BIGS, or give him to the aust government, but they don't have to. Maybe someone would call that "thinking of the big picture."

But catching that big fish is firstly, not neccessarily possible through Nguyen, and in fact I would think it is highly unlikely. You might catch someone bigger than Nguyen, at best probably a handful up in mid-management levels.

I would think, in sg's interest, following its enforced law of giving the death penalty was a decision that sees the "even larger picture."
Now, someone who thinks of smuggling will have to think twice, because of the death penalty, and thrice because of singapore's willingness to deliver the death penalty under critism. The low level smuggler has more to fear.

Capt_Canuck said...

I disagree totally with the use of the death penality, however I do agree with Matt in that because capital punishment is in effect, I dont risk anything when it comes to carrying things or taking things from strangers. I was in Singapore in Sept and a guy walked up to me as I was walking into a shopping mall and he handed me an envelope. The envelope was a blue 'hallmark' kind of card with 'happy birthday' scrawled on it. The Canadian in me responded by taking the envelope, smiling and saying 'thank you'. Then the smart person realizing what country I was in and their draconian law and punishment system, threw the item into the trash instantly (not on the ground cause then I would get charged with littering) and I took off as quickly as possible just in case the envelope contained an item that the law might consider illegal.

So, the strict laws and punishment does work in Singapore. I dont trust anyone there, wont take anything from anyone or help out anyone out of fear that it could be some twisted individual trying to get the foreigners into trouble and I know the excuse "but I didnt know what was in it, it was given to me by a stranger" doesnt work as a defence. Guess that makes me a law abiding citizen huh?