Four Vietnam Airlines flight attendants were arrested last Thursday after a flight from Paris, France to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. During a routine security clearance check, customs officers at Tan Son Nhat International Airport allegedly detected drugs in the crew’s luggage, as Vice reports. However, the method used to apparently disguise the drugs from law enforcement was unconventional, to say the least. The cabin crew hoped that no one would find anything suspicious about someone carrying more than 150 tubes of toothpaste.
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Flight attendants Dang Phuong Van, Tran Thi Thu Nga, and Vo Tu Quynh, as well as cabin manager Nguyen Thanh, were allegedly caught with 25 pounds of illegal drugs in total. According to Radio Free Asia, the four flight attendants were transporting 154 toothpaste tubes crammed with contraband; 112 of those tubes were filled with grey tablets, which weighed a total of 18.5 pounds including the weight of the packaging. A further 42 toothpaste tubes were stuffed with white powder weighing 6.7 pounds total. Tests concluded that the tablets were ecstasy and ketamine and the powder was cocaine.
The flight attendants claim someone in France paid them $424, or 10 million Vietnamese dong, to transport “some goods” to Vietnam and didn’t believe the tubes were tampered with. Vietnam is notorious for harsh punishments for drug violations. Those found guilty of drug crimes often face life in prison, or even the death penalty.
According to Radio Free Asia, Vietnam Airlines believes that the attendants were helping friends transport the goods. The flight attendants were relatively new employees at the airline, with roughly a year’s experience. Customs officials were tipped off about the alleged smuggling scheme, and law enforcement hoped to apprehend the alleged traffickers as they picked up the cargo at the airport, but no one arrived to collect the luggage.