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
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
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
Foreign Prisoners Support Service