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Hong Kong court jails teenagers for drug trafficking
By Mary-Anne Toy Herald Correspondent in Hong Kong April 4, 2006

THREE young Australians including two teenagers - described by their counsel as impressionable and susceptible to a predatory crime syndicate - have been sentenced to long prison terms after pleading guilty to trying to smuggle more than 700 grams of heroin from Hong Kong to Australia last April.

Chris Ha Vo, 16, was sentenced to nine years and Rachel Ann Diaz, 18, to 10 years and eight months after counsel argued that their youth and remorse warranted lighter sentences. Hutchison Tran, 22, was sentenced to 13 years and four months. All are from Sydney.

David Boynton, counsel for Tran, the recruiter of Vo and Diaz to act as drug couriers, described the trio as three individuals from good families who had ended up as "down-and-outs".

Mr Boynton told Judge Peter Longley that Tran had been recruited by the crime syndicate in Sydney after losing his money playing slot machines at a casino.

Earlier, the court had also heard how Vo, then 15, had fallen in with the wrong crowd when he was 13 or 14. Diaz was a 17-year-old trainee hairdresser with a history of sexual abuse when they were tempted by the offer of making $6000 to $7000 if they acted as drug couriers.

Vo had agreed to swallow as many as 30 heroin-filled condoms. Diaz had agreed only to transport drugs, if at all, by strapping them to her body.

Tran had met Vo and Diaz when they flew from Sydney to Hong Kong on April 5 and had supplied the drugs and the condoms.

Hong Kong police raided their hotel as the three were preparing the heroin in order to catch the flight to Sydney that night.

Counsel for both Vo and Diaz urged Justice Longley not to follow normal Hong Kong sentencing guidelines, which would indicate a sentence of 20 years to life for the amount of heroin involved, because of their clients' young age.

John McNamara, the barrister for Vo, said his client, a schoolboy brought up by a single mother, had never been before the courts but when he was 13 or 14 he began losing interest in school and met some older people who "got him into the horrendous trouble he is in now".

The barrister Peter Callaghan told the court that his client, Diaz, also came from a supportive family but had suffered several setbacks. She had been indecently assaulted when she was five years old and raped by a paternal uncle when she was 12.

Justice Longley said that while courts were naturally reluctant to sentence young people to jail, the gravity of some offences made even substantial terms inevitable to deter others from following their example.

Foreign Prisoners Support Service

Three lives wasted
April 04, 2006

SYDNEY girl Rachel Ann Diaz was just 17 when she was caught preparing to swallow heroin packed in condoms and board a flight back to Australia.

The trainee hairdresser from East Hills told her mother she was sleeping over at a friend's house in April last year -- but instead flew to Hong Kong to play her part in a $1m heroin racket.

Last night Diaz was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in a Hong Kong jail for her involvement in the syndicate. Two other young Australians -- Chris Vo, 16, and Hutchinson Tran, 21 -- received nine years and 13 years respectively.

The imprisonment of yet another group of young Australians in Asia comes in the wake of the Schapelle Corby, Bali Nine and Van Nguyen drug cases.

Hong Kong High Court judge Peter Longley delivered his verdict late yesterday. All three had pleaded guilty.

Diaz's parents -- Ferdinand and Maria Diaz -- were reportedly shattered by the news of their daughter's arrest.

"In my dealings with Rachel's mother, she has been completely devastated," South East Asian Crime Squad Commander Deborah Wallace said.

"They had no idea."

The three have been in custody in Hong Kong since their arrest on April 12 last year, after police raided their low-budget hotel room in the Tsim Sha Tsui district.

Police discovered the drug in 114 condoms and several glove fingers that, they say, the two teenagers were to swallow before boarding a flight to Sydney.

Prosecutors said Diaz and Vo had been promised $200 by a drug syndicate for each 5cm packet of heroin they swallowed. They had been under surveillance as a result of a joint police operation to stop the use of drug mules to smuggle heroin from Hong Kong to Western markets.

Diaz's barrister Peter Callaghan pleaded for mercy from the judge, saying she had been emotionally distressed as she was assaulted when she was aged five.

He said she had been "scared" of the syndicate and was assured she did not have to swallow the drug and only needed to accompany the younger boy on the trip.

Tran, a Vietnamese-Australian who lives in Hong Kong, was recruited to supply the heroin for them to swallow. He was the first among the three to plead guilty.

John Macnamara, barrister for the youngest defendant, Vo, who was caught when he was 15, pleaded for a lenient sentence due to his "extremely young" age.

Foreign Prisoners Support Service

Australian youths jailed over heroin
Mary-Anne Toy, Hong Kong

THREE young Australians, described by their lawyer as impressionable, silly and "down-and-outs", have been given long jail terms after pleading guilty to trying to smuggle heroin from Hong Kong to Australia last April.

Chris Ha Vo, 16, was sentenced to nine years and Rachel Ann Diaz, 18, was sentenced to 10 years and eight months after counsel argued their youth and remorse warranted lighter sentences. Hutchison Tran, 23, was sentenced to 13 years and four months. All are from Sydney.

Lawyer David Boynton, for Tran, who had recruited Vo and Diaz to act as drug mules, said the three were from good families but had ended up as "down-and-outs". He told Judge Peter Longley that Tran had been recruited by a crime syndicate in Sydney after losing his money at a casino.

Earlier the court heard how Vo, then 15, had fallen in with the wrong crowd when he was 13 or 14 and Diaz was a 17-year-old trainee hairdresser when they were tempted by the offer of making $6000 to $7000 as drug mules. Vo had agreed to swallow up to 30 heroin-filled condoms.

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All information is Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff
All information is Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff