Vietnam sentences SA drug smuggler to death

28 August 2018 - 18:35 By Reuters
Cocaine. (File photo)
Cocaine. (File photo)
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

A Vietnamese court has sentenced a South African man to death for smuggling cocaine from Brazil into the 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 (R50,000) to carry the drugs.

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

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 more than 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.