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Vietnam Court Hands 'Nam Cam' Death Sentence - 2003-06-05

A court in Vietnam has handed down a death sentence to the country's most powerful gangster. The prosecution of crime kingpin Nam Cam has captivated the country for 18 months. In his trial, witnesses testified that more than a dozen communist officials were on the gangster's payroll.

Hollywood could hardly have scripted a more sensational story than the case of the gangster known as Nam Cam. The cast include his daughters in a Buddhist monastery, a murdered rival boss, corrupt officials and a box full of rats.

The ending, though, came as no surprise. Nam Cam, whose real name is Truong Van Cam, will face a firing squad. He was convicted of murder, racketeering and bribery. Several of his followers also were condemned.

They were convicted Wednesday in a mass trial of 155 suspects, including several senior Communist Party officials.

According to testimony in the trial, Nam Cam, the king of Ho Chi Minh City's underworld, ran an empire that was raking in $2 million a month through nightclubs, gambling and protection money. The 56-year-old mobster was known for being generous to his friends and brutal to those who crossed him.

According to court testimony and local media reports, he once had acid poured down the face of a rival. He also ordered the assassination of his archrival, female crime boss Dung Ha, whose feud with Nam Cam peaked when she sent him a giftwrapped box full of live rats.

Nam Cam was arrested in late 2001 in what the government hailed as a blow against organized crime. But it soon was reported that he had been using his profits to buy government protection.

On Wednesday, 18 Communist Party officials were convicted in the mass trial. Three of the most senior officials will spend up to 10 years in prison.

On the streets of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, people gathered around televisions on sidewalk stalls to hear the live broadcast of the sentencing. Some expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the trial. Others were shocked that corruption reached so high in the Communist Party and wondered what other criminals are still being protected.

At least one person, though, thinks Nam Cam was railroaded. Buddhist nun Truong Truc Quan, 36, is his daughter. She said after the trial her father is innocent, but nothing can save him, saying "my father is like a fish on a chopping block."