HANOI (Reuters) - A court in southern Vietnam has sentenced a 73-year-old Vietnam-born Australian woman to death for trafficking heroin hidden in bars of soap, several state-run media outlets reported on Thursday.
The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court found Nguyen Thi Huong guilty on Wednesday of possessing 36 bars of soap stuffed with 2.8 kg (6 lb) of heroin in her baggage as she was boarding a flight to Australia in December 2014, the Ho Chi Minh City Police newspaper said.
Court officials and Australian diplomats in the city could not be reached for comment about the case.
In a statement, the Australian government expressed concern and reiterated its opposition to capital punishment.
“We are concerned that an Australian citizen has been sentenced to death in Vietnam,” the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said. “We will continue to provide consular assistance and support to the woman and her family.”
The Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper and news portal tuoitrenews.vn reported that Huong had said she was given the soap as a gift by a woman, identified only as Helen, while they were on a trip to the coastal city of Vung Tau.
Huong told the court she wanted to take them to Australia as gifts and was not aware of what they contained.
However, the Ho Chi Minh City Police newspaper, controlled by the city’s police, said Huong had failed to prove that the other woman was real.
The court ruled that the offense was “extremely dangerous to the community” and found her guilty. She now faces death by lethal injection.
The Tuoi Tre newspaper published a photo of Huong covering her mouth with her hands as she was taken from the court after the verdict. Huong has 15 days in which to appeal against the death sentence.
The death penalty is applied in communist Vietnam in cases of trafficking of 100 grams of heroin or more. In late 2013, Vietnam adopted the use of lethal injections for capital cases instead of firing squads.
Reporting by Ho Binh Minh; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez