Paul Kennedy and Vũ Thu Hà
HƯNG YÊN — In a legal first, a man has been jailed in Việt Nam for killing another man 14 years ago in the United Kingdom.
It is the first time a trial has been held in Việt Nam for an offence committed in a foreign country.
Lê Minh Tú appears in court in Hưng Yên where he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Photos courtesy of Gwent Police
Lê Minh Tú, 47, was sentenced to 12 years in prison at the People's Court of Hưng Yên Province for the killing of 44-year-old Trần Nguyên who died after being badly beaten in November 2006.
Detective Chief Inspector Justin O’Keefe of Gwent Police said: “This was the first time a trial was held in Việt Nam for a foreign offence. It’s taken years of work liaising with a range of authorities, but we never lost hope that we would see the outcome we now have.”
Lê Văn Tuấn, Chief Judge of Hưng Yên Province People’s Court told Việt Nam News: “Right after receiving the case, we have closely worked with relevant authorities from the UK, followed all appropriate procedures to ensure the right person is prosecuted for the right offence.
“The case has clearly proved the effective co-operation between the two countries. A representative from the UK Embassy attended the court on Monday, saying the UK was very pleased with the helpful co-operation from Việt Nam.”
Nguyên had been brought to the UK in the back of a lorry in 2006 and was illegally employed looking after a cannabis factory.
Victim Trần Nguyên who was found unconscious and unresponsive outside the Royal Gwent Hospital in the United Kingdom in 2006.
That factory was raided by a rival gang and the drugs stolen, and Nguyên was thought to have been the ‘inside man’ in the robbery.
As punishment, he was taken from Newport to a house in London where he was beaten and tortured.
The gang even telephoned his wife in Việt Nam so she could hear him being beaten on the phone.
They told her she must pay more than VNĐ1 billion (US$50,000) or “Be prepared to collect your husband’s corpse”.
After the attack, he was driven back to Wales and dumped outside the Royal Gwent Hospital where he later died.
In 2008, three Vietnamese nationals went on trial at Cardiff Crown Court and were eventually convicted of manslaughter and jailed for a total of 23 years.
The fourth suspect, Lê Minh Tú, fled the country and was not arrested at the time. Police in the UK had information he was first living in Germany, then the Czech Republic before returning to Việt Nam.
DCI O’Keefe added: “In 2007 the Vietnamese Government passed a law that no Vietnamese national could be extradited to face criminal charges which presented us with a problem.
“Every month for the last 13 years I have been in communication with the National Crime Agency, or the Home Office, or the British Embassy in Hà Nội to see what we could do to try and progress this.”
Now, 14 years since the assault, he has been captured by police in Việt Nam, tried and convicted of the unlawful killing.
DCI O’Keefe said: “This has been one of the most logistically challenging enquiries ever faced by Gwent Police. For a considerable time, we didn’t know the identity of the victim or the circumstances leading to his death.
“This outcome demonstrates the commitment of all authorities, to work together to bring offenders to justice.
“I’d like to thank the Ministry Of Public Security in Viet Nam who have progressed the prosecution on our behalf, together with the National Crime Agency.”
NCA Head of Region for Asia Pacific, Mark Bishop, added: “This was a truly landmark case which came about because of unprecedented co-operation between the NCA, Gwent Police and the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security. We worked closely with them to exchange evidence, resulting in this conviction.
“Trần Nguyên’s family have been through a horrendous ordeal and have had to wait 14 years for this verdict. I hope it brings some form of comfort or closure to them.
“It demonstrates that no matter what the offence or where in the world offenders may be, we can track them down and we can bring them to justice.”
As well as being sentenced to 12 years in prison, Lê Minh Tú was also ordered to pay the family of the man he killed VNĐ116 million.
Widow speaks of devastation after death of her husband
In 2008 a trial was held in the United Kingdom that, at the time, was one of the most expensive ever conducted in Welsh legal history.
Three members of a drug gang were jailed for a total of 23 years for the beating that left a man dead.
All three convicted, like the victim, were Vietnamese nationals involved in the illegal production of cannabis in Wales.
Lê Văn Công was convicted of manslaughter over the killing and sentenced to seven years in prison in 2008.
Trần Nguyên, 44, a father-of-two, was accused by the gang of stealing plants from the cannabis factory he tended in Newport, South Wales.
After a four-month trial at Cardiff Crown Court which cost in the region of $1.6 million, Huỳnh Văn Quỳnh, 51, was jailed for nine years.
Huỳnh Văn Quỳnh was jailed for nine years in 2008 in connection with the death of Trần Nguyên.
Lê Mạnh Toàn (aka Than Van Le), 32, and Lê Văn Công, 50, were sentenced to seven years each. All three had denied murder.
Lê Mạnh Toàn (aka Thanh Van Le) was jailed for seven years following a four-month trial at Cardiff Crown Court in 2008.
In a statement read to the court at the time, Nguyên’s widow said she feared for the safety of herself and her family after speaking to the police.
Phạm Thị Thiên said: “When I heard the news of my husband’s death it was devastating for me and my children.
“You can imagine the situation when a wife loses her husband and children lose their father. My husband was a healthy person and he was beaten to death.”
At the time, a fourth man, Lê Minh Tú, who was wanted in connection with the death had vanished.
Fourteen years later, as he was sentenced for the unlawful killing at the People's Court in Hưng Yên Province, justice was finally served.— VNS