Gerard McManus and Norrie Ross
MELBOURNE man Tuong Van Nguyen, 25, faces death by hanging within a
fortnight after Singapore's President S.R. Nathan refused to grant him
Unless a last-minute reprieve is granted, Nguyen will become the first
Australian since 1993 to be executed overseas.
Australian government officials told Van Nguyen's mother, Nguyen Kim, the
grim news yesterday.
She was in the care of the Australian High Commission in Singapore yesterday.
Julian McMahon, a member of Nguyen's legal team, said his client's family
were trying to come to terms with the decision.
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer yesterday conceded there was
virtually no hope for the former refugee.
"We have done our best, we have done everything we can to save his life,"
Mr Downer said.
Nguyen had no previous criminal convictions, but was found guilty of trying
to smuggle almost 400g of heroin out of Singapore in December 2002.
He had been to Cambodia and was in transit in Singapore waiting to board a
Qantas flight back to Australia when he was caught with two packets of
heroin: one strapped to his back, the other in his backpack.
The heroin was an attempt to pay debts owed by his twin brother to a Sydney
Lex Lasry QC, who leads Nguyen's Melbourne legal team, was shattered.
"Death by hanging is hideous," Mr Lasry said.
"It is grossly out of proportion to the crime."
Mr Lasry said Nguyen admitted his guilt and had helped authorities,
including the federal police.
"The only people who will take comfort from this result will be those who
exploited Van Nguyen for their own purposes to profit from drug
trafficking, and who now know that with the death of our client their
criminal conspiracy will go unpunished," he said.
Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said Nguyen's situation was "a
truly tragic case".
"Our hearts go out to this young Australian and his poor mother," Mr Rudd
"We call on the Singaporean Cabinet to reconsider its decision."
Australian officials have avoided publicity in the case, hoping
behind-the-scenes efforts might sway Singapore's Government.
But pleas from Prime Minister John Howard, Governor-General Michael Jeffery
and the late Pope all failed.
The Bracks Government gave cautious support for Nguyen yesterday.
"This is a tragic situation. Victoria opposes the death penalty but
recognises that other countries have the right to impose their laws in
their country," a spokeswoman said.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart called on Singapore to spare Nguyen.
Brian Walters, SC, president of Liberty Victoria, called on the Federal
Government to use all its powers to save Nguyen and called on Singapore to
commute the sentence to life.
In 1993, Michael McAuliffe was executed in Singapore, and in 1986 Kevin
Barlow and Brian Chambers were hanged in Malaysia.