Cablegate: Narcotics Certification Procedures for 2003

Published: Fri 20 Jun 2003 06:22 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A. STATE 153955 G. Hanoi 1043
B. STATE 99648 H. Hanoi 353
C. UNVIE 373 I. Hanoi 549
D. 02 Hanoi 2980 J. Hanoi 1504
E. 02 STATE 190339 K. Hanoi 550
F. HCMC 499 L. Hanoi 117
M. Hanoi 1538
1. (U) In response to ref a request, post is providing
responses keyed to 2003 certification demarche points (ref
b) as follow:
2. (U) Implementation of the counternarcotics Master Plan
for 2001-2005:
--This is an ongoing activity that continues to make slow
but steady progress. The United Nations Office of Drugs and
Crime (UNODC) continues its support with a USD 276,000
project designed to assist the GVN to finalize the plan
(which now is extended to 2010). The USG is contributing
USD 100,000 to the project. According to UNODC Resident
Representative Dr. Doris Buddenberg, the GVN submitted its
final draft to UNODC in January and the plan now is in the
Office of the Government (Prime Minster's office) waiting
for approval. According to Dr. Buddenberg, approval should
be forthcoming "soon," as MPS and MOLISA have resolved
interagency issues concerning responsibilities for drug
treatment and rehabilitation.
3. (U) Continued focus on narcotics-related corruption,
including policy statements that make it clear that
narcotics-related corruption will not be tolerated and will
be severely punished, including the removal and prosecution
of corrupt officials, when found:
--The UN, law enforcement agencies, and even the GVN view
corruption in Vietnam as an endemic problem that exists at
all levels and in all sectors. In its public statements,
the GVN takes a strong stand against corruption in general,
but has not singled out narcotics-related corruption for
specific attention. Colonel Bui Xuan Bien, the director of
the Standing Office for Drug Control (SODC), confirmed that
"any GVN official who violates laws about corruption" would
be prosecuted. A major criminal case (that of "Mafia" chief
"Nam Cam" in Ho Chi Minh City) included charges of
corruption, in addition to crimes such as murder, assault,
gambling, etc. Two defendants had been expelled from the
Communist Party of Vietnam's Central Committee in 2002 in
connection with this case; one of these had also been a Vice
Minister of Public Security. Another defendant had been the
Deputy Supreme Prosecutor. Of the 155 defendants, including
numerous police officials, 154 were found guilty. There
were six death sentences and a variety of other prison
sentences, including life imprisonment. On the day of the
verdict, one of Nam Cam's top syndicate officials, Nguyen
Van Hoa, and seventeen others were arrested in Japan for
trafficking in heroin, according to press reports. In
March, nine MPS officials were judged guilty for bribery.
In June, the People's Court in Quang Nam province in central
Vietnam sentenced the director of a state-run construction
company to life imprisonment for embezzlement. In another
case, President Tran Duc Luong rejected leniency pleas from
two former executives sentenced to death for a scheme to
"appropriate state property through graft," according to a
May press report.
--Senior GVN officials continue to speak out against
corruption. In late January, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai
visited MPS and emphasized the need to fight all crime and
corruption. In March, the Prime Minister said that
officials who "turn a blind eye to drug-related crime will
be punished." In February, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
spokesperson said in response to a question that the GVN
considers the fight against corruption "an important task."
--A bilateral anti-corruption agreement with Sweden,
providing about USD 2.7 million to fund research on socio-
economic policy and anti-corruption measures over a three-
year period was signed in 2002. Under the agreement, Sweden
is supporting a study on the "institutional framework of
anti-corruption policies." While the official agreement is
with the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the actual
partner is the Communist Party of Vietnam and, according to
an official of the Swedish Development Corporation, the
program is "quite sensitive." A diagnostic study on how to
implement the program "should be started by the end of the
4. (U) Developing and implementing regulations enabling
the tools provided in the new counternarcotics law to be
used fully and effectively to investigate major drug-
trafficking groups:
-- The National Assembly passed a comprehensive
counternarcotics law on December 9, 2000, which came into
effect on June 1, 2001. The GVN directed MPS and other
ministries, including the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), to
agree on a common approach for implementation. In addition,
MOJ was tasked with working with MPS and other relevant
agencies to review existing counternarcotics legal documents
and make appropriate amendments to facilitate implementation
of the new law. According to Dr. Buddenberg, UNODC is
assisting the GVN in an "ad hoc" manner in this area,
especially concerning implementing decrees and legal
training. There is now a "donor coordination" group
consisting of Sweden, Denmark and the USAID-funded Support
for Trade Acceleration project that meets once a month to
discuss legal issues; however, the focus is not specifically
on narcotics.
--Since our last report, the GVN has made public eight
decrees related to the counternarcotics law. These decrees:
a. list the narcotic substances and pre-substances;
b. guide the control of lawful drug-related activities in
c. stipulate the rehabilitation order, procedures, and
regimes for drug addicts consigned to compulsory
rehabilitation centers;
d. designate family organization and community-based
e. prescribe the regime of compensation and allowances for
individuals, families, agencies, and organizations suffering
life, health, and property damage while participating in
drug prevention activities;
f. stipulate the rewards and commendations for individuals,
families, agencies, and organizations recording achievements
in drug prevention; and,
g. assign responsibility on international cooperation in
the field of drug prevention. According to DEA's Hanoi
Country Office, this decree contains no concrete formulation
fro creating a framework to allow for information sharing
and/or cooperative law enforcement efforts, however. The
decree also does not provide implementing regulations for
international controlled deliveries, which is at least
mentioned in the 2001 drug law.
--An eighth (and key) decree, concerning law enforcement,
has apparently been issued, but according to an MPS
official, it has not been made public due to its
"sensitivity." According to DEA, without knowing what is in
this decree and/or without access to MPS officers, DEA (and
other foreign law enforcement entities) are unable to know
what law enforcement training would be most useful.
--A preliminary analysis by a UNODC legal official concluded
that the decrees are "insufficient in terms of establishing
a proper drug control legal system," however. The decrees
tend to focus on drug control areas, which are "generally
less complex and controversial," the official added. There
is still a need for "new and proper" legal instruments in
areas such as procedures, conditions, systems for
investigations, international cooperation, extradition,
controlled delivery, and maritime cooperation, according to
the analysis.
--Another problem is Vietnam's lack of judicial capacity.
The UNODC's Dr. Buddenberg lamented that this issue is
"still not adequately addressed" by the donor community.
Without improved judicial capacity, concrete progress in
this area "will be difficult," she opined.
--While not directly related to the drug law, on May 29 the
GVN issued Decree 58, which deals with the control of
import, export, and transit of drug substances, precursors,
additive drugs, and psychotropical substances. According to
the decree, only businesses authorized by the Ministries of
Health, Industry, and Public Security can import/export drug
substances, precursors, additive drugs and psychotropical
substances for specific, licit purposes. The GVN has tasked
MPS to coordinate with other concerned ministries and
agencies to manage and control the import/export of these
narcotic substances. While this decree may prove useful,
thus far the GVN has shown a tendency not to use the laws
already on the books in a proactive manner.
--While the counternarcotics law allows for law enforcement
techniques such as controlled deliveries, the GVN appears
reluctant to engage in this area and/or meaningfully
cooperate with DEA's Hanoi Country Office or other law
enforcement entities in Hanoi (ref l). In January,
February, and March 2003, DEA informed MPS' counternarcotics
unit (C-17) about three major heroin shipments transiting
Vietnam. C-17 officials did not respond or react to the DEA-
provided information. According to DEA, implementing
controlled delivery techniques could have resulted in major
seizures. In addition, even when DEA has offered funding to
assist in an operation, DEA's MPS counterparts have not
cooperated. Furthermore, the MPS continues to stick to its
line that it is unable to share operational information with
DEA due to "national security considerations."
5. (U) Increased seizures of opium, heroin, and
amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), followed by increased
investigations and prosecutions of traffickers:
--The GVN has continued to arrest and prosecute drug
traffickers in 2003, but there is a relative decline thus
far in 2003. According to GVN statistics, during the first
five months of calendar year 2003, there were 4,135 drug
cases with 6,310 suspects arrested. If projected over the
entire year, it appears that case numbers will decline
significantly - by 30 percent in the number of cases and by
35 percent in the number of suspects arrested. (Note: For
past drug reports, we have routinely received such
statistics from SODC. Despite several requests, SODC
declined to provide us with updated drug statistics in 2003.
We instead obtained the information from the Ministry of
Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs - MOLISA, which also
plays a role in counternarcotics activities, primarily in
the drug treatment and rehabilitation area. End note.)
Concerning arrest and case statistics, DEA and other law
enforcement entities have not changed their view that most
arrests involve relatively low-level street dealers.
--On the seizure front, the official press (and post - ref
j) reported on a major seizure of 40 kilograms of heroin
that occurred in June. This seizure represents over 65
percent of the total amount of heroin seized in Vietnam
(57.4 kilograms) during 2002. Despite this relatively
impressive seizure, the UN's "Mini-Dublin" 2003 report noted
that, Vietnam remains a "major transit route for drug
traffickers, with Vietnamese traffickers demonstrating
increased sophistication in trafficking techniques and
concealment." The report further stated that Vietnam is
atypical in that very few drugs (at least until this recent
seizure) are seized at border crossings, indicating the
"inefficiency of Vietnam's border control capacity."
--Attempting to address this issue, UNODC (supported
primarily by the USG) will implement beginning in July 2003
a project to improve law enforcement and information
capacity within the GVN. Concerning prosecutions, the GVN,
according to law enforcement sources, moves fairly
vigorously to prosecute those arrested. However, those
prosecuted are generally street-level dealers. In addition,
GVN law enforcement authorities have not demonstrated the
will to pursue higher-level narcotics traffickers, according
to DEA.
--Vietnam's threshold for the death penalty is among the
lowest in the world and drug sentences tend to be harsh.
Possession of 100 grams of heroin or 20 kilograms of opium
can result in the death penalty, according to SODC and press
reports. An April press report noted that a man and his
wife in Vung Tau were sentenced to death for trafficking
33.3 kilograms of opium and 0.3 kilograms of heroin. From
January to April 2003, 27 drug traffickers were sentenced to
death. On June 12, a 15-year old Australian - Vietnamese
girl received a life sentence for attempting to bring about
six-tenths of one kilogram of heroin into Vietnam, according
to a press report.
--MOLISA's statistics for seizures other than heroin also
point to a sharp downward trend. Projecting the January -
May statistics over CY 2003, opium seizures may decline 48
percent; cannabis 54 percent, and ATS by nearly 75 percent.
Dr. Tran Xuan Sac, Director of National Policy and Planning
in MOLISA's Department of Social Evils Prevention,
nonetheless predicted that seizures would "probably
increase" over the course of the year, while declining to
explain how or why.
6. (U) Productive cooperation with regional neighbors,
including Laos, the PRC, and Burma to reverse threatening
trends in narcotics trafficking:
--During 2003, Vietnam has continued efforts at regional
cooperation. According to a January 2003 "People's Police"
press report, from 1998 to the end of 2002 the GVN sent 122
delegations, including over 700 counternarcotics police
officials, to overseas training and/or conferences. Vietnam
has existing counternarcotics MOUs with the PRC, Burma,
Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. In May, Vietnam was set to
host an "MOU Conference" in Hanoi, but the conference was
postponed until October due to SARS. According to SODC and
press reports, in March MPS Deputy Minister Le The Tiem
visited the PRC and discussed bilateral drug cooperation
with the leadership of the PRC's Drug Control Committee.
Tiem also traveled to Thailand to learn more about
Thailand's drug control activities; during this visit, Tiem
also proposed hosting a drug control conference among six
Vietnamese northern border provinces and two PRC border
provinces. In February, another GVN delegation traveled to
Thailand to attend a regional conference on controlling
opium poppy cultivation. In April, Vietnamese and Lao
provincial counterparts from Nghe An and Laos' Xiengkhouang
provinces met to improve cross-border counternarcotics
cooperation. In June, Vietnam hosted the ASEAN Senior
Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC) and
Counterterrorism as well as separate SOMTC+EU, SOMTC+China,
SOMTC+3, and SOMTC+US sessions. The meetings included a
discussion on regional drug issues. Specifically, the
Burmese delegation discussed the need for an enhanced
regional approach. According to DEA, there is no evidence
that the attendance of GVN law enforcement officials at
regional or international fora leads to enhanced
cooperation, however.
7. (U) Continued eradication of domestic illicit poppy
cultivation and support of crop-substitution projects to
eliminate it completely:
--The USG officially estimates that there are about 2,300
hectares of opium poppy under cultivation in Vietnam.
However, there has not been a satellite-based opium yield
survey since 2000. This estimate is considered high by the
GVN, UNODC, and law enforcement sources. The GVN estimates
approximately 315 hectares of poppy cultivation in generally
remote, mountainous regions. According to UNODC's "Global
Illicit Drug Trends (2002), "due to small production,
Vietnam cultivation figures have been included in the `other
Asia' category since 2000." In 1999, the last year Vietnam
was considered independently, UNODC estimated opium
cultivation at 442 hectares. Based on numerous provincial
visits, there appears to be a sincere effort to eradicate
poppy, when found. However, GVN officials have admitted
that complete eradication is unrealistic, given the
remoteness of mountainous areas in the northwest and extreme
poverty among ethnic minority populations who still use
opium for medicinal purposes. Regrowth in remote areas,
particularly in the northwest, remains a small, but
apparently persistent problem, as does limited cannabis
growth in areas near the Cambodian border. According to
SODC's Bien, the GVN eradicated 124 hectares of opium poppy
during the first quarter of CY 2003, virtually all of it in
the northwest. Bien confirmed that "when we find poppy, we
eradicate it."
--Regarding crop substitution, there is a major UNODC
project (with significant USG support) ongoing in the Ky Son
district of Nghe An province, one of the drug "hotspots" in
northern Vietnam. This project, currently in its second
phase, includes a crop substitution/alternative development
component, where various types of fruit trees and other
enterprises, such as bee raising, have been implemented in
areas formerly dedicated to poppy. UNODC's Buddenberg
viewed the first phase as "successful," with an increase in
agricultural production and corresponding drop in drug
activity. Based on an Embassy monitoring visit in April
(ref g), there is progress in the livestock and agricultural
models (the focus of USG assistance); however, the selection
process of those receiving project assistance was not clear,
a problem that UNODC is now addressing. A similar project
planned in Son La province, another drug area along the Lao
border, will not proceed. Prior to the proposed project
signing, the GVN requested an alternate project location and
more autonomy in administering the project. UNODC declined
to meet the GVN's demands; after deliberation, UNODC decided
not to proceed.
--In addition to Ky Son, the GVN's Ministry of Agriculture
and Rural Development (MARD) has continued to support
projects in various provinces. The GVN, through MARD,
independently supports crop substitution projects in other
provinces, including Hoa Binh, Yen Bai, Ha Giang, Cao Bang,
and Lang Son. The GVN has tasked MARD to develop a national
crop substitution proposal to include in the GVN's 2001-2005
Master Plan. To avoid indirectly encouraging poppy
cultivation through subsidies for eradication, the GVN has
placed all crop substitution subsidies under national
programs to alleviate poverty in poor, mountainous regions.
8. (U) Continued focus on creating a legal framework to
address money laundering and other forms of financial
--At present, money laundering is not considered a major
issue in Vietnam because of the state-controlled banking
system and high transaction costs. However, partly due to
the work on terrorist financing, over the last year there
has been a growing awareness and concern among State Bank of
Vietnam (SBV) officials on the issue of money laundering and
financial crimes in general. SBV officials have begun to
work with the U.S., the IMF, and other donors to identify
and address weaknesses in their banking system. However,
without major reform (including greater transparency), it
will be difficult for sufficient safeguards to be
introduced. According to a 2003 UNODC report, "Vietnam is
obviously ill equipped to fight the escalation in financial
crimes unfolding in most of Southeast Asia." While the
State licenses wholly foreign-owned and joint venture state-
private banks to operate alongside the State commercial
banks, their market penetration and asset base are small.
Foreign exchange currency controls for private and joint
venture banks are considered to be strict. However, the
banking system in Vietnam is segmented and lacks real,
transparent, and easily verifiable controls. Although banks
are under the supervision of the State Bank, that
supervision is minimal. Vietnam is in the process of
implementing banking reform as part of their World Bank and
IMF loans, and some of that reform is relevant to these
issues (increased transparency, more effective regulation,
and overall stability of the banking system). It will be
critical that reform of the banking system is accompanied by
law enforcement training regarding financial crimes.
--There is currently no specific law in Vietnam regarding
money laundering, although it is mentioned in the
comprehensive counternarcotics law very generally, but
internal discussion has begun on the need to draft specific
regulations on this issue. According to UNODC, the GVN is
aware of the potential problem and "trying to take
preventive measures" such as inviting international experts
and participating in ILEA training. To that end, post had
lined up several appropriate State Bank officials to attend
ILEA-sponsored training on financial crimes in May;
unfortunately, Vietnam's participation in the course was
cancelled by ILEA due to SARS.
9. (U) Increasing efforts to support drug awareness and
prevention, demand reduction, and treatment of drug users
and addicts:
-- The GVN views drug awareness and prevention as a
significant objective in its fight against drugs as well as
an integral part of its efforts fully to comply with the
1988 UN Drug Convention. The GVN has continued a steady
drumbeat of anti-drug propaganda, culminating in June's drug
awareness week (the week of June 23). If last year's
activities are any guide, during the week youth and mass
organizations will engage in various activities to spread
the anti-drug message. These include art contests,
speeches, and meetings. Within the past few months, state-
controlled television has begun a weekly program called "SOS
Drugs" and has been airing a series of anti-heroin spots.
According to the UNODC's Buddenberg, Vietnam and UNODC will
be signing an agreement to implement a demand reduction
project (supported mainly by Italy) "within the next few
-- By the end of 2002, the GVN admitted officially to
142,000 registered addicts, although the UN and other
agencies suspect the actual number is substantially higher.
Even that official figure is 25 percent higher than 2001.
MOLISA is the GVN ministry tasked with providing drug
treatment services. Since 2001, emboffs have visited most
drug treatment centers in northern Vietnam as well as some
in the south. According to SODC, there are 73 centers at
the provincial level, which have a capacity of between 50 to
3,000 addicts each. Provincial authorities run most
centers, but some are supported by mass organizations, such
as the Youth Union. Drug treatment centers range from the
most basic to relatively modern. Most suffer from a lack of
physical and material resources. The addict population is a
combination of those who enter voluntarily and others who
are undergoing "compulsory" treatment. Drug treatment, as
with other public sector services in Vietnam, suffers from a
lack of resources. However, the GVN has continued efforts
to expand drug treatment in 2003. According to a March
press report, of 142,000 addicts, approximately 48,000 had
undergone detoxification treatment.
--Some drug treatment centers suffered some escapes, likely
due in part to a 2002, GVN decree that mandated minimum
stays of one year. No such escapes have been reported in
2003, however. Vocational training in the centers is
uneven, ranging from fairly good to nonexistent. This is
mainly due to a lack of resources. Lack of resources has
also had a negative impact on the GVN's plan to improve drug
treatment in one of Vietnam's "hotspot" provinces, Nghe An.
A 700-bed center was scheduled to fully open in early 2003,
but due to funding constraints, this has been delayed until
the end of 2003, according to MOLISA's Dr. Sac. Presently,
there are "only a few addicts" staying in the partially
completed facility, he added.
--In addition to drug treatment centers, those with less
severe addictions may be treated under a community-based
treatment scheme (ref I). Despite apparently good
intentions, it appears that implementation is rather thin
and uneven, with "peer pressure" the main component of
treatment following detoxification. Community-based
treatment nonetheless at least provides addicts with a
supportive infrastructure (and limited vocational training)
that would otherwise not be available.
--During its June 2003 session, the National Assembly
approved a five-year pilot project on post-treatment
vocational training developed by the HCMC People's
Committee. The one to three-year program is compulsory for
those judged at high risk for returning to drugs. It is
voluntary for others who have finished their compulsory
treatment and judged less at risk. According to Nguyen
Hoang Mai of the National Assembly's Social Affairs
Committee, the goal of the program is to try to reduce the
relapse rate (generally estimated at about 80 percent,
similar to western countries) by providing recovering
addicts with more skills that will enable them to assume
"productive lives after treatment." The pilot project, set
to begin on August 1, will be implemented in HCMC (where the
relapse rate may be as high as 90 percent), and other
provincial cities, according to press reports.
10. (U) Signing a narcotics agreement with the United
States to permit even closer counternarcotics cooperation
between Vietnam and the United States:
--We are unable to report progress on this front during
2003. The GVN has yet officially to respond to the
Department's October 2002 non-paper, despite repeated
promises to do so. The GVN apparently harbors concerns over
concerning human rights, taxation, and the training
participant certification regarding non-drug trafficking
(refs k and m). The MFA has also unofficially expressed
concern over what officials have termed the "small size" of
the projects attached to the draft Letter of Agreement
(LOA). Senior GVN officials and official documents continue
to claim that signing the agreement remains a priority; this
view has not thus far translated to meaningful progress.
Both countries nonetheless agree in principle that an LOA
would enhance cooperation and allow the bilateral
relationship to develop further.
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