Three rhino horn smugglers receive stiff sentences under Viet Nam’s amended penal code
Lao Cai, Viet Nam, 16th May 2019—Three men caught in an attempt to smuggle rhino horn across the Vietnamese border into China have been sentenced to a combined total of 27 years in prison. The sentences, handed down this Tuesday in a Lao Cai courtroom, were prosecuted under Viet Nam’s recently amended penal code which includes a provision for higher penalties for those convicted of wildlife crime.
“Too often those convicted of wildlife-related offences have simply gotten away with administrative fines, but the judge’s imposition of lengthy prison sentences in this case should act as a deterrent to other wildlife traffickers and send a strong signal that Viet Nam is finally getting tough on wildlife crime,” said TRAFFIC’s Viet Nam Office Director Sarah Ferguson.
Two of the smugglers, Duong Van Thanh and Duong Van Sang, were arrested in May 2018 in Lao Cai after police had been tipped off that they would be transporting the horn over the border. The men were caught in a car with 20 kg of rhino horn, which had been hidden in vases and a nylon bag. Later, police arrested the owner of the rhino horn, Duong Van Chiem. Duong Van Thanh and Duong Van Sang were each sentenced to around 8.5 years, while Duong Van Chiem received a 10-year sentence.
TRAFFIC and other organisations welcome the outcome in anticipation that it represents a shift in the way illegal wildlife trade will be prosecuted in the country, particularly with respect to implementation of the new penal code. Wildlife-focused NGO Education for Nature Vietnam specifically encouraged prosecutors in the case to deliver appropriate sentencing.
For more than a decade Viet Nam has been a major destination and transit country for rhino horn but has come under scrutiny for relatively lax punishments on wildlife crime. However, the newly amended penal code features more robust penalties for breaking the law. Individuals can receive up to 15 years imprisonment for a violation, or a fine of up to VND2 billion (USD86,000). Companies can receive fines of up to VND15 billion (USD640,000) and be forced out of business. Nevertheless, some weaknesses remain, such as the exemption from prosecution for individuals found in possession of less than 50 g of rhino horn.
“Today’s sentencing is welcome evidence that Viet Nam is taking its commitments made on the international stage to address wildlife crime seriously,” said Ferguson.