Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen

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Thanh Nguyen
Born(1983-10-30)30 October 1983
Died9 May 2018 (aged 34)
Jakarta, Indonesia
Other namesMember of the Bali Nine
Criminal statusDeceased
Conviction(s)Drug trafficking (2006)
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment
Imprisoned atMalang, East Java, Indonesia

Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen (Vietnamese: Tân Đức Thanh Nguyễn; 30 October 1983 – 9 May 2018)[2] was a VietnameseAustralian citizen. He was convicted in Indonesia for drug trafficking as a member of the Bali Nine. In 2005, Nguyen was arrested in a room at the Melasti Hotel in Kuta together with three others. Police uncovered 334 g (11.8 oz) of heroin in a suitcase in the room. After a criminal trial, on 15 February 2006 Nguyen was sentenced to life imprisonment.[3] His appeal to the Indonesian Supreme Court to have the sentence reduced suffered a shock when the Supreme Court imposed the death penalty on 6 September 2006.[4]

A subsequent appeal to the Indonesian Supreme Court, following a full confession by Nguyen of his role in the plan to import heroin from Bali to Australia, resulted in the original sentence of life imprisonment being reinstated.[1] Some media reports claimed Nguyen was believed to be a financer of the smuggling plan.[5][6]

An Indonesian justice ministry official announced on 5 June 2018 that Nguyen had died of stomach cancer on 9 May.[7]

Trafficking conspiracy[edit]

Media reports based on the testimony of co-conspirator, Renae Lawrence, claim that Nguyen (going by the alias of David), from Wellington Point in Brisbane, Queensland, had arranged an earlier attempt at trafficking from Indonesia to Australia. This attempt in December 2004 involved Lawrence, Andrew Chan, Matthew Norman and others. The delivery was aborted when heroin suppliers failed to deliver "due to a financial matter or someone knowing about the plan the shipment was cancelled".[8]

Further media reports, again based on court testimonies, claim that Nguyen met Michael Czugaj and Scott Rush (both Brisbane school friends) in a pub in Fortitude Valley[9] where Nguyen reportedly offered Rush and Czugaj an all-expenses-paid trip to Bali.[5][6]

Arriving in Bali on or about 8 April 2005, Rush and Czugaj met co-ringleaders Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan at the Hard Rock Hotel,[6] and also Renae Lawrence and Martin Stephens. On 14 April, Norman, Si Yi Chen, Lawrence and Stephens checked into Adhi Dharma hotel in Bali, with Nguyen arriving in the same hotel two days later. In the evening of Sunday 17 April, acting like tourists, Nguyen, Norman, and Chen checked into the Melasti Hotel. Myuran Sukumaran, who was also with them, with his bags, left them with the others as he decided to go to the Hard Rock Hotel complex.[10][11]

All were later convicted of drug trafficking as fellow members of the Bali Nine.[12]

Arrest in Indonesia[edit]

Approximately 20 minutes after checking in, Nguyen was arrested at the Melasti Hotel in Kuta on 17 April 2005 with Matthew Norman, Myuran Sukumaran and Si Yi Chen. Indonesian police claim the group were in possession of 334 g (11.8 oz) of heroin and bundles of plastic wrapping, Elastoplast tape, and a set of scales, indicating involvement in a plan to transport drugs to Australia.[10]

Earlier that day at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, Indonesian police also arrested the following drug mules after they were found carrying various amounts of heroin concealled on their bodies. Martin Stephens was found to be carrying 3.3 kg (7.3 lb); Renae Lawrence was found to be carrying 2.689 kg (5.93 lb); Michael Czugaj was found to be carrying 1.75 kg (3.9 lb) and Scott Rush was found to be carrying 1.3 kg (2.9 lb) of heroin. Co-ringleader Andrew Chan was also arrested the same day while seated on an Australian Airlines flight waiting to depart Denpasar for Sydney. At the time of his arrest, Chan was carrying three mobile phones and a boarding pass. No drugs were found in his possession.[11]

Criticism of Australian Federal Police tipoff[edit]

Lee Rush, the father of Scott Rush, a fellow member of the Bali Nine, said that he contacted the Australian Federal Police (AFP) prior to the commission of the offence, fearing his son was travelling to Bali and would commit a drug-related crime. Rush senior claims then to have received assurances from the AFP that they would tell his son he was under surveillance to dissuade him from going through with the crime before the group's departure from Indonesia. Scott Rush's lawyers said he was never contacted. It was revealed that the AFP alerted Indonesian police that a crime was to be committed approximately two weeks before the arrests, and had commenced an investigation about ten weeks prior to the arrests.[5][13][14]

When the Bali Nine were arrested, the news of the tipoff became public[15] and there was criticism of the role of the AFP in protecting the interests of Australian citizens.[14] Commenting on the matter at the time, AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty was reported as saying:[16]

"One of the things we've got to remember is that we operate within our criminal-justice system here in Australia, and if we only co-operated with countries that had the same criminal-justice system, then our co-operation wouldn't extend very far beyond Australia. We have to work with the systems that operate in other countries, and to a large degree this has been successful, certainly in terms of heroin trafficking."

Rush took action in the Federal Court of Australia against the AFP for breach of the bilateral treaty between Indonesia and Australia when information was handed by the AFP to the Indonesians. Rush's case claimed that such information should only be released by the Attorney-General. However, the Commonwealth Government maintained that the treaty only applies after a suspect is charged.[17] The application was dismissed by the Federal Court in January 2006.[citation needed]

Criminal trial[edit]

Criminal trials for the accused commenced in the Denpasar District Court on 11 October 2005. Chen, Nguyen, and Norman, all arrested at the Melasti Hotel and earning the epithet, The Melasti Three, were tried together, with the remaining six defendants tried separately.

In December 2005, it was reported that tensions were building between the Bali Nine drug mules and Sukumaran and Chan.[18] Several days later, lawyers acting for some members of the Bali Nine initially sought the support of the Director of Public Prosecutions to intervene and lay charges for conspiracy to import drugs, so that the nine could be extradited and charged under Australian law.[19] However, the judges hearing the trial matters in Bali called on Australia not to interfere in Indonesia's right to impose capital punishment;.[20] Lawyers acting for Stephens, one of the Bali Nine, claimed that the fairness of his trial was in jeopardy following comments made in the media by Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda that Australians should be prepared for members of the Bali Nine to receive a death sentence, if found guilty.[21]

During his trial, Nguyen was accused of both recruiting members and financing the drug importation scheme.[5][6] Czugaj, since convicted, stated that he travelled to Bali, with school friend Scott Rush, after Rush introduced him to Nguyen. Their reason for travel was that Nguyen offered them both a free holiday to Bali. When asked why he chose to travel to Bali on a paid holiday, Rush replied:

"Basically we got the response that [Nguyen] didn't have anyone to come to Bali with him". Nguyen refused to testify; Czugaj confirmed Rush's account of events as being true.[22]

Sentencing and appeal[edit]

During his final plea to judges, Nguyen said:[citation needed]

"I basically stand here before you to tell you that I love Indonesia and I would never intentionally damage or hurt her reputation. I only wanted to come here. If given a chance I would definitely recommend this holiday island to many friends and family. As the only and oldest son in the family I was the one who supported my four younger sisters, and I paid for the groceries and my sisters' education and school needs, so how could I possibly be the financier? The impact on my family has left them shattered and truly devastated, and our lives will never be the same again."

— Nguyen, quoted in his final plea prior to his sentencing, February 2006.

On 15 February 2006, Nguyen was sentenced to life imprisonment. Commenting on the sentences at the time, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Keelty stated:[23]

"I stand by the police and what they've done … The Federal Court actually made a decision saying not only had they acted lawfully but they acted in accordance with government policy."

— AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty, quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 February 2006.

The Australian Prime Minister John Howard was reported as commenting:[23]

"The police are there to protect us from the ravages of drugs and I just hope that every young Australian who might in their wildest imagination think that they can get away with this will take a lesson from this."

Appealing against the sentence, on 6 September 2006, his sentence was upgraded to the death penalty.[4] On 5 March 2008, three judges in the Indonesian Supreme Court in Jakarta decided to spare the lives of Nguyen, Chen, and Norman.[1]

Prison life[edit]

After initially serving time in Bali's Kerobokan Prison, in 2014 Nguyen and Stephens were transferred to a prison in Malang, East Java when it was reported that they had violated prison rules.[24]


Nguyen died from cancer on 9 May 2018 in a Jakarta hospital, aged 34, confirmed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.[25][26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Forbes, Mark (6 March 2008). "Bali three spared death". The Age. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  2. ^ "Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen Campaign Information". Save A Life. Foreign Prisoner Support Service. 10 April 2007. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  3. ^ Thompson, Geoff (15 February 2006). "Remaining Bali nine given life sentences" (transcript). Lateline. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  4. ^ a b Forbes, Mark (6 September 2006). "Execution shock for four of the Bali nine". The Age. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d Neighbour, Sally (27 August 2010). "How the AFP trapped the Bali Nine". The Australian. News Limited. Retrieved 25 June 2011.
  6. ^ a b c d Cornford, Philip (2 May 2005). "'Ringleader' No. 3 identified". The Age. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  7. ^ Agence France-Presse (5 June 2018). "Member of Bali Nine drug smuggling gang dies in prison". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  8. ^ McMahon, Neil; Forbes, Mark (19 November 2005). "A crooked trail of greed and naivety". The Age. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  9. ^ Palmer, Tim (10 October 2005). "Bali Nine documents lay out alleged conspiracy" (transcript). 7.30 Report. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  10. ^ a b "Busted Aussies 'acted like tourists'". The Age. AAP. 19 April 2005. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  11. ^ a b Cornford, Philip (23 April 2005). "How the trap snapped shut". The Age. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  12. ^ Munro, Catherine (24 April 2005). "How Renae lost her way and landed on death row". The Sun-Herald. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  13. ^ McKew, Maxine (18 April 2005). "9 Australians caught in Bali drug bust" (transcript). 7.30 Report. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  14. ^ a b Munro, Ian; Shiel, Fergus (20 April 2005). "Sydney or bust?". The Age. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  15. ^ "AFP knew of drug plan for 10 weeks". The Sydney Morning Herald. AAP. 18 April 2005. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  16. ^ Hoare, Daniel (July 2007). "Australian Exceptionalism: The Bali Nine and the future of the death penalty". The Monthly. Black Inc. Retrieved 25 June 2011.
  17. ^ "Bali drug accused allege AFP breach". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 7 October 2005. Retrieved 20 June 2011.
  18. ^ "Bali Nine brought together in court". The Age. AAP. 2 December 2005. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
  19. ^ "Lawyers seek charges to extradite Bali nine". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 6 December 2005. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
  20. ^ "Don't interfere: Bali Nine judges". The Sydney Morning Herald. AAP. 7 December 2005. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
  21. ^ "Fairness of Bali Nine trial in jeopardy, say lawyers". The Age. AAP. 7 December 2005. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
  22. ^ "Chan threatened to kill mules: families". The Age. AAP. 29 November 2005. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  23. ^ a b Forbes, Mark; McMahon, Neil; Dodson, Louise (15 February 2006). "Death by firing squad". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  24. ^ "Bali Nine duo moved from Kerobokan jail after 'violating rules'". news.com.au. 27 March 2014. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  25. ^ "Bali Nine drug smuggler Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen dies in prison". news.com.au. 5 June 2018.
  26. ^ Lipson, David (5 June 2018). "Bali Nine member Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen dies in hospital in East Java". ABC News. Retrieved 5 June 2018.