Vietnam Airlines crew members on an international flight from Paris to Ho Chi Minh City were arrested at a Vietnam airport on Thursday after customs officers found illicit drugs in tubes of toothpaste they were carrying, state media reported.
Customs officers at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City detected the drugs in the luggage of four flight attendants during a security check.
Flight attendants Dang Phuong Van, Tran Thi Thu Nga, Vo Tu Quynh and flight attendant Nguyen Thanh Thuy carried 112 tubes of toothpaste containing 8.4 kilograms (18.5 pounds), including the weight of the package, of gray tablets and 42 tubes of toothpaste containing 3.04 kilos. (6.7 lbs.) of white powder. Rapid tests indicated that the substances contained methamphetamine, commonly known as ecstasy; ketamine, a short-acting anesthetic with hallucinogenic effects; and cocaine.
Thuy, 37, and the three other flight attendants said someone in France paid them more than 10 million dong, or about $424, to help transport “some goods” to Vietnam.
Law enforcement officials have not released information about the person.
The attendees also told authorities they quickly checked the toothpaste because they were tired from another long-haul flight, but found no signs of tampering.
At a press conference held by the Ho Chi Minh City Customs Department on Friday, Bui Le Hung, director of the airport customs office, said it was “regrettable” that a newspaper published the story prematurely, which made the drug traffickers realize that law enforcement was on them as the authorities expanded their investigation to pursue the culprits.
As a result, the culprits never showed up at the airport to pick up the toothpaste, he said.
Nguyen Huu Nghiep, deputy director of the office, refused to reveal what he told the authorities during the inspection of attendees’ luggage.
A representative for Vietnam Airlines said the national flag carrier was working with the relevant agencies on the case.
The arrested flight attendants are quite young and only have about a year of work experience with the airline, he said, adding that they may have believed they were helping friends transport cargo to Vietnam.
From January 1 to March 14, customs officers at Tan Son Nhat International Airport detected eight cases of drug trafficking and seized nearly 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of various illegal narcotics.
Translated by Anna Vu for Vietnamese FRG. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Joshua Lipes.