S.African drug smuggler delays potential death sentence in Vietnam

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Coetzee sobs during the trial. Photo by VnExpress/H.D.

The alleged cocaine trafficker claims he has schizophrenia in the face of Vietnam’s tough drug laws.

A court in Ho Chi Minh City decided to delay the trial of a South African man charged with drug trafficking on Thursday pending a psychiatric assessment.

Coetzee Tyron Lee, 33, allegedly tried to smuggle 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) of cocaine from Brazil into Vietnam but was arrested at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport.

Coetzee claimed he had been hired by a Nigerian man known only as Oden to smuggle the drugs for a cash fee of $3,500 to be paid upon his arrival in Ho Chi Minh City.

Following instructions, Coetzee traveled from South Africa to Brazil on June 6, 2016 where he was given a black backpack by Oden’s men. He then transited in Dubai before arriving in Vietnam on June 9, 2016.

Tan Son Nhat Airport Customs detained him after discovering the cocaine hidden in the backpack.

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In court, Coetzee sobbed, claiming the backpack containing drugs wasn’t his, it was just “inside my bag”. He also claimed he didn’t know drug trafficking was illegal in Vietnam.

“In my entire life I’ve never managed to finish reading a book or accomplish anything,” Coetzee said. He then claimed he had schizophrenia and was often unable to control his actions and emotions.

He asked the panel to give him a psychiatric assessment before deciding on a sentence.

Coetzee’s alleged schizophrenia is a new twist to the case, so the panel agreed to his request.

Vietnam has some of the world’s toughest drug laws. Those convicted of possessing or smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or cocaine or more than 2.5kg of methamphetamine face the death penalty.

The production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of other illegal narcotics is also punishable by death.

-VNExpress