THE Federal Government will plead for the life of an Australian national sentenced to death in Vietnam for conspiring to smuggle heroin.
Vietnamese state-run radio announced yesterday the 46-year-old Victorian man of Vietnamese origin, Mai Cong Thanh, had been sentenced to death by firing squad.
He had been charged with conspiring with two other Australian nationals to take heroin from Vietnam to Australia.
Justice Minister Chris Ellison said he would be "pulling out all stops" to ensure the sentence was not carried out.
"As to whether he appeals, that is a matter for his lawyers and his own decision but can I say that as is usual, the Australian Government will make earnest pleas, very strong pleas to the Vietnamese Government that the death penalty not be carried out," Senator Ellison said.
"We've done this with
other Australian nationals who have faced a sentence of death in Vietnam and Singapore and, of course, in relation to Indonesia as well. We will be pulling out all stops in relation to this issue to ensure that the death penalty is not carried out and that is our standard practice."
The Ho Chi Minh City People's Court heard that Thanh and another two men, also Australian, hid compressed heroin in loudspeakers in order to send them to Australia. Thanh's trial lasted one day.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs later confirmed the trial had taken place on Thursday and an official had been attending.
The department was assisting his appeal, a spokeswoman said.
"Appeals must be lodged within 15 calendar days and can take up to four months before being heard," she said. "In practice, it has taken longer than four months in other cases."
Thanh and one of his two accomplices – also of Vietnamese origin – were arrested at Saigon Port in May, 2003, with nearly 2kg of heroin. One was not tried because he suffered a psychiatric disorder.
The other, Lee Benjamin, is believed to have fled to Australia and Vietnamese police have issued a warrant for his arrest.
Vietnam has some of the toughest drug laws in the world. Those in possession of 300g of heroin or more than 10kg of opium often receive the death penalty.
Senator Ellison said there was no prisoner transfer agreement between Australia and Vietnam.
"We have not commenced discussions with Vietnam in relation to transfer of prisoners but . . . certainly we would be interested in exploring it with Vietnam," he said.
Senator Ellison said he also was concerned for a 16-year-old Australian boy sentenced to a 13-year jail term in Cambodia.
Chinese-Australian Gordon Vuong was arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport on January 22 with 2.1kg of heroin concealed on his body.
He was sentenced by Phnom Penh Municipal Court early last month.
"We are certainly addressing the question of transfer of prisoners with Cambodia as well as other areas of cooperation," Senator Ellison said. "That has been a concern of mine and the department is looking at what arrangements we can put in place in relation to that particular instance."