Members of a Vietnam Airlines crew on an international flight from Paris to Ho Chi Minh City were arrested at an airport in Vietnam on Thursday after customs officers found illicit drugs in toothpaste tubes they were carrying, state media reported.
Customs officers at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City detected the drugs in the baggage of four female flight attendants during a security clearance check.
The flight attendants — Dang Phuong Van, Tran Thi Thu Nga, Vo Tu Quynh and purser Nguyen Thanh Thuy — were carrying 112 toothpaste tubes containing 8.4 kilograms (18.5 lbs.), including package weight, of gray tablets and 42 toothpaste tubes containing 3.04 kilos (6.7 lbs.) of white powder. Quick tests indicated that the substances contained methamphetamine, commonly known as ecstasy; ketamine, a short-acting anesthetic with hallucinogenic effects; and cocaine.
Thuy, 37, and the other three flight attendants said someone in France paid them more than 10 million dong, or about U.S.$424, to help transport “some goods” to Vietnam.
Law enforcement officials have not disclosed information about the person.
The attendants also told authorities that they quickly checked the toothpaste because they were tired from another long-haul flight, but did not find any signs of tampering.
At a press conference held by Ho Chi Minh City’s Customs Department on Friday, Bui Le Hung, director of the airport customs office, said it was “regrettable” that one newspaper ran the story early, thereby making the drug traffickers aware that law enforcement agencies were on to them while authorities expanded their investigation to go after the culprits.
As a result, the culprits never showed up at the airport to collect the toothpaste, he said.
Nguyen Huu Nghiep, the office's deputy director, refused to disclose what tipped off authorities during the screening of the attendants’ luggage.
A Vietnam Airlines representative said the national flag carrier was working with relevant agencies on the case.
The arrested flight attendants are fairly young and only have about one year of work experience with the airline, he said, adding that they may have believed that they were helping friends to transport goods to Vietnam.
From January 1 to March 14, customs officials at Tan Son Nhat International Airport detected eight cases of drug trafficking and confiscated nearly 15 kilos (33 lbs.) of various illegal narcotics.
Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Joshua Lipes.