Australian goes to Singapore gallows for smuggling '26,000 doses' of heroin

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The Independent Online

Kim Nguyen held her son's hand one last time and then emerged sobbing from Singapore's Changi prison, where the 25-year-old Australian was due to be hanged just before dawn today.

Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, ruled out a last-minute pardon for Nguyen Tuong Van, who was arrested in 2002 with nearly 400g of heroin. "The government has decided that the law has to take its course," Mr Lee said.

Singapore has turned down repeated pleas for clemency, despite the fact that Nguyen has no previous criminal record and cooperated fully with the authorities. He told police he was transporting the heroin for a Sydney drugs syndicate in order to pay off debts accumulated by his twin brother, Khoa.

Nguyen, who was detained en route from Cambodia to Australia, received a final farewell from his mother and brother yesterday. After a personal appeal by the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, the Singapore government allowed them to hold hands. But a request for Ms Nguyen to embrace her son before he went to the gallows at 6am local time was turned down. "Australia should have been campaigning against capital punishment much earlier, much more widely and more strongly," The Sydney Morning Herald said in an editorial yesterday. But Mr Howard, as usual, has accurately judged the public mood. A poll by the Morgan Institute found that 47 per cent of Australians believed he should be executed. But the Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, described the execution as a "barbaric act".

Singapore imposes a mandatory death penalty for possession of 15g or more of heroin. Mr Lee said Nguyen's consignment was equivalent to 26,000 doses.

"This would have caused untold suffering to hundreds, if not thousands, of addicts and their families," the Prime Minister said. "We take a very serious view of drug trafficking and the penalty is death."

Nguyen's mother fled Vietnam in 1980 and gave birth to the twin boys in a refugee camp in Thailand. Filmed daily by television cameras coming in and out of Changi prison, she appears a broken woman.

Nguyen's lawyer, Lex Lasry QC, said: "She's a mother who loves her son, and tomorrow he'll be dead." Asked how he had felt leaving the prison after his final visit, he replied: "It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my career."

Julian McMahon, another member of the legal team, described Nguyen, who is a Roman Catholic, as cheerful and composed. "He's a beautiful young man," he said. "He only wishes to think good thoughts ... do what is right. He is completely rehabilitated, completely reformed ... and now they're going to kill him."