Police in Vietnam have identified the mysterious and violent kingpin who has made millions trafficking his countrymen into Britain and the US including the 39 people who lost their lives in Essex.
A mysterious people smuggler called ‘Mr Truong’ has been named as the mastermind now being hunted down by detectives in south-east Asia.
He is believed to be the gangster in charge of the ‘global ring’ based in Vietnam and is said to have links to the feared Chinese ‘Snakeshead’ organised crime syndicate set up by boss ‘Sister Ping’ in the 1980s.
And a special task force is hoping to corner Mr Truong in the Ha Tinh and Nghe An provinces of Vietnam.
The authorities in he refrigerated trailer where 39 people were found dead in the early hours of Wednesday morning and now they have identified the Vietnamese people smuggler behind it
A source told the Daily Mirror: ‘As much as these gangs like to hide in the shadows, their names are being whispered in the community.
Snakeshead kingpin, Cheng Chui Ping, also known as “Sister Ping”, who ran the world’s largest people smuggling network for 20 years until her death in a US jail
‘While they now threaten the families who were smuggled with violence to keep them silent, each day the police are building up a picture on the operation Truong oversees’.
He is believed to work with Chinese people smugglers, because many of the 39 migrants found dead in Essex were said to be carrying fake Chinese passports.
Chinese gangland boss Sister Ping died in a Texas prison in 2014 where she was serving 35 years for building the world’s most sophisticated network of people smugglers who brought up to 200,000 illegal immigrants into America alone.
At her New York trial in 2005 she was described as ‘evil incarnate’ who had made a fortune moving generations of Chinese people around the world for £20,000 since the early 1980s.
Despite her death the gang she founded is moving with the times and using social media apps including China’s equivalent to Tinder, MoMo, as well as popular messaging app WeChat, promising migrants ‘100 per cent safe travel’ to Britain or the US.
Police want to speak to Ronan Hughes, 40, and his brother Christopher, 34, who are understood to run a haulage firm from a farm near the border of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
The suspects are believed to be somewhere in Northern Ireland and detectives today urged those who know the pair to contact police.
Essex Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Hooper said: ‘This is a case where 39 men and women have tragically died and support from the community is going to be vital to help bring those responsible to justice.’
Police investigating the deaths of 39 people in a container in Essex are hunting these men, Ronan Hughes and his brother Christopher, who are believed to be in Northern Ireland
Yesterday Vietnamese authorities have sent British detectives the names of 14 people they believe died in container horror to begin the process of formally identifying the victims.
And in an exchange Essex Police investigating the deaths of 39 people have forwarded to the Vietnamese Government the names of four people whose identities they are believed to have already confirmed.
The information swap has kick started what police believe will be a lengthy identification process that could take several weeks.
The Chinese Government have also asked Essex Police to provide more information after they first reported the victims were from China.
The names of nine suspected victims feared dead by their families, are: Nguyen Huy Hung, 15, Pham Tra My, 26, Hung Nguyen, 33, Anna Bui Thi Nhung, 19, Nguyen Dinh Tu, 26, Le Van Ha, 30, Vo Ngoc Nam, 28, Joseph Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, and Hoang Van Tiep, 18. With five more said to have been identified by Hanoi police.
Pham Tra My, 26, was the first person named by family as among the 39 dead in the container tragedy and it appears she may have been deported from Britain days earlier
This is the last photo of 15-year-old Nguyen Huy Hung, who has been missing since he tried to cross illegally to Britain, his family claim
Nguyen Van Hung’s shocked family have not heard from him since October 21st when he sent a message saying he was ‘going by taxi’ to the UK
Officials in Hanoi said today 28 Vietnamese families from two rural provinces have come forward fearing a loved one was among the victims who died in the refrigerated container that had travelled from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
Government sources said 18 of those reported missing came from Hghe An province while the other ten were from Ha Tinh, two poverty stricken areas less than 50 miles apart.
Each of the families told authorities that their loved ones had been in contact up until October 21st when they were attempting to enter the UK illegally with the assistance of people smugglers.
A telephone hotline has been set up for families to report a missing person and in the capital the British ambassador Gareth Ward has held meetings with Vietnamese officials to discuss cooperation in the identification of victims.
A Vietnamese Government spokesman said the 14 names had been sent to the UK via the British Embassy in Hanoi.
Over the weekend officials collected hair and nail samples from grieving families to be used in DNA analysis.
Families also supplied photographs and descriptions of distinguished marks, such as moles or scars.
While more than half a dozen families have spoken out about their anguish others have chosen to remain silent.
The names supplied to Essex Police are thought to include the youngest victim, 15-year-old Ngyuen Huy Hung.
Family members said his parents were already in the UK and he was set to be reunited with them after a journey from his home in Ha Tinh province that had taken two month.
Pham Thi Tra My, 26, who sent a devastating text to her mother saying she was suffocating, was also thought to be among those whose details are now with Essex Police.
Her father was among the first to send a letter to the local authorities saying his daughter was likely one of the 39 people found dead.
The death of so many Vietnamese people has caused embarrassment to the Government and local media have down played the tragedy in its news reports.
Foreign media were ordered to leave the homes of some victims and families told not to answer questions.
The victims were thought to have been carrying false Chinese passports – but the majority are understood to be from Vietnam
The terrible events of the past few days are but the latest example of the trade in ‘human cargo’ between China and Britain, a 5,000-mile route through Asia and mainland Europe that can take a month
The Ministry of Public Security has said it is investigating possible involvement of individuals or groups who help Vietnamese emigrate illegally.
And the country’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered a probe into the trafficking of Vietnamese citizens.
The debt-ridden families of suspected victims in the Essex lorry tragedy are being intimidated by smuggling gangs, it has emerged.
Grieving relatives in Vietnam are understood to have come under pressure not to speak out as authorities in the UK seek to find those responsible for the 39 deaths. Anti-trafficking experts last night warned that victims’ relatives are being held ransom by ‘highly sophisticated and organised’ smuggling networks to whom they owe up to £30,000.
The press was prevented from speaking to the family of one suspected victim in Vietnam.
After wanting to discuss their child’s disappearance, the family was ordered to keep quiet by men who escorted a reporter off the property – and locals believe they may be linked to smugglers.
Mo Robinson was in court yesterday accused of 39 counts of manslaughter, money laundering and people trafficking charges
Joanna and Thomas Maher, arrested in connection with Essex lorry deaths because of historic links to the lorry. They have now been released on bail
The family of suspected victim Nguyen Dinh Luoung, 20, have told how they were contacted by a trafficker in France after the tragedy and promised that some of the £11,000 smuggling fee would be returned.
Experts said the tactic has likely been employed by gangs as leverage to ensure families do not speak to police about their operation.
Michael Brosowski, head of anti-trafficking charity Blue Dragon in Hanoi, said families often borrow money from the smugglers and are then left facing years of repayments – while the victims of gangs can find themselves trafficked and effectively used as slaves to supposedly pay off the debt.
Dreams of a better life: Faces of the migrants feared dead in truck tragedy while trying to enter UK
Hoping for a better life, here are the faces of the 39 people who are believed to have frozen to death in the back of a truck after a desperate attempt to reach Britain.
VietHome, a British organisation which tries to help UK-based Vietnamese residents, said it had been sent 20 photographs and names of people feared to have been inside the lorry container.
Eight suspected victims have so far come to light: Hung Nguyen, Anna Bui Thi Nhung, Nguyen Dinh Tu, Le Van Ha, Vo Ngoc Nam, Pham Thi Tra My, Joseph Nguyen Dinh Luong and Hoang Van Tiep.
All 39 people have been moved from Tilbury Docks to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford and are being formally identified.
Anna Bui Thi Nhung, 19, from Vietnam paid an agent over $10,000 with the hope of entering the U.K.
The nail technician who paid £8,800 to make it to Britain
Anna Bui Thi Nhung, 19, from Vietnam paid an agent over £8,000 [$10,000] with the hope of entering the U.K. to work as a nail technician, according to a relative.
Her mother and a sister today cried as they set up an altar with incense and a photo of the suspected victim where family and friends can pray at their home in Do Thanh village.
The family heard from a friend living in the UK that ‘Nhung is one of the victims,’ said one of her relatives, who was visiting the missing teen’s mother.
Nhung and many others from Yen Thanh district, where the village is located, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Hanoi, travel abroad looking to make the type of money they cannot earn back home. One of their main goals is to send back enough to allow their families to build large homes that they would otherwise be unable to afford.
On October 21, days before her family lost contact with her and the news of the doomed shipping container emerged, Nhung wrote in a Facebook post: ‘Being grown up means having to hide your sadness in the dark, and keeping a smile on your face.’
A relative looks at an image of Nhung. The 19-year-old wanted to work as a nail technician, according to a relative
Nhung’s family said she first left Nhung on her journey overseas in August. She went to China first, before eventually making her way to Germany, then Belgium, where they believe she boarded the fated truck.
‘I just want a peaceful life,’ Nhung wrote in a caption beneath a photo of her smiling in a green field a few weeks after leaving Vietnam.
Late on Saturday night, Nhung’s family, devoid of hope, set up an altar in her memory, with her photo next to her father’s.
Her father died of cancer a few years ago. Her mother was unable to work because of health complications and so her loved ones clubbed together to finance a new life overseas, Nhung’s family said.
‘Nhung didn’t have the qualifications to get a good job with handsome pay. Nor do her friends and many others here,’ said Nhung’s uncle, Hoang Binh.
‘Going abroad and sending back money was the only choice,’ he added.
By early September, it was not clear where she was, but Nhung was already well into her trip, and reflecting on her next steps.
Beside a stock image of two children flying kites at sunset, she posted: ‘As I grow up, I see that life is not as peaceful as I used to think. When I grow up, I want to go back to my childhood, when I lived freely’.
Ton Quang Tuan, one of Nhung’s friends living in Berlin, said that ‘We went out a few times when Nhung was in Berlin’ and added that ‘she was in a good mood, very happy,’ but they lost contact after she said she had to leave for Britain.
It was not clear how Nhung had travelled from the Vietnamese countryside to China and then Berlin, but the German capital has emerged in recent years as a staging ground for Vietnamese and other migrants looking to start new lives in Britain.
‘I feel lonely in the place I used to dream of everyday,’ Nhung wrote on September 25.
It was unclear where she was – Vietnamese smugglers are said to advise their subjects to live discreetly and not to give away too many clues in order to evade detection from the authorities.
A few days later, Nhung was pictured outside Berlin Cathedral with a cup of bubble tea in her hands.
By late October, Nhung was in Belgium. She posted photos of herself, again with a cup of bubble tea in her hand, excitedly exploring the sights of Brussels, including the old stock exchange and the bustling Rue Auguste Orts thoroughfare.
It was from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge that the doomed container eventually departed. Her family believe that she was on board.
In Berlin, Nhung wrote: ‘Back in Vietnam, I thought Europe was pink. But it turns out it’s black’.
The ‘VIP’ traveller who paid £30,000 believing she would travel to Britain by plane and car and sent harrowing messages to her mother as she died in the back of a freezing lorry crossing the North Sea
Suspected victim Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent her mother a series of harrowing messages telling her she ‘loved her’ and was ‘dying because she couldn’t breathe’ in the moments before her death, her family have claimed
Suspected victim Pham Thi Tra My, 26, from Vietnam sent her mother a series of harrowing messages telling her she ‘loved her’ and was ‘dying because she couldn’t breathe’ in the moments before her death, her family have claimed.
They claim to have paid people smugglers £30,000 for their daughter to travel to the UK via China ‘in search of a better life’.
She is from Ha Tinh, an impoverished province in a part of Vietnam where many of the country’s illegal migrants come from.
Nguyen Thi Phong and Pham Van Thin, told CNN it was ‘very painful’ to receive the text – saying she must have known she was going to die when she sent it.
‘I’ve lost both my loved one and my money,’ her father Pham said, claiming he and his partner scraped together the money to pay for their daughter to travel to the UK.
The pair, who make around $400 a month between them, said the smugglers did not tell them how their daughter would be transported to the UK.
‘The smugglers said that this was a … safe route, that people would go by airplane, car … if I had known she would go by this route, I would not have let her go,’ Pham added.
A human rights worker in Vietnam, who has spoken with Tra My’s family, revealed she made the perilous journey because her family was in debt and she was desperately trying to help them.
Her family claim to have paid people smugglers £30,000 for their daughter to travel to the UK via China ‘in search of a better life’
‘She had just returned from Japan where she was working to try and pay off the debt. And that was not enough and so she looked for a better future,’ she told the BBC.
Asking to remain anonymous, the human rights worker continued: ‘For this girl it is very sad that she took the risk because she was dealing with debt that was created by another man in the family.
‘And I also learnt that the service that she was using was called ‘very important service’ and so it is like a business class ticket on the lorry and with that she had to pay double or three times the price of the cheap ticket.’
The human rights worker added that migrants are told they can vast amounts of money by moving to the UK, and the 26-year-old may have been convinced to purchase a ‘VIP ticket’ to get there.
He family mortgaged the house to get that money for her, the human rights worked added.
Pham Thi Tra’s last text messages were sent at 10.28pm BST on Tuesday – two hours before the truck reached the UK, as it was en route from Belgium.
She told her mother: ‘I’m sorry Mum. My journey abroad hasn’t succeeded. Mum, I love you so much. I’m dying because I can’t breathe.’
Tra My’s brother told the BBC on Friday that his sister had told them not to contact her because ‘the organisers’ did not allow her to receive calls.
He said she flew to China from her home in Can Lộc, a rural district of Hà Tĩnh Province in Vietnam, then left for France and initially attempted to cross the border into the UK on October 19, but ‘got caught’ and turned back.
Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, pictured at Montmartre in Paris planned to work in a nail salon when he got to Britain
20-year-old impoverished Vietnamese province with dreams of a better life in a British nail bar
Another of the suspected victims was revealed to be Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20.
His father Nguyen Dinh Gia said his son told him two weeks ago he planned to travel to Britain from France, where he had been living illegally since 2018.
He said he would pay £10,000 [$14,000] for the journey and planned to work in a nail salon when he got to Britain.
But Gia got a call several days ago from a Vietnamese man saying ‘Please have some sympathy, something unexpected happened,’ he told AFP.
‘I fell to the ground when I heard that,’ Gia told AFP.
‘It seemed that he was in the truck with the accident, all of them dead,’ he added.
His father told The Associated Press he had not been able to reach him since last week. He had said he would join a group in Paris that was trying to reach England.
‘He often called home but I haven’t been able to reach him since the last time we talked last week,’ Nguyen Dinh Gia said. ‘I told him that he could go to anywhere he wants as long as it’s safe. He shouldn’t worry about money, I’ll take care of it.’
He said his son left home in central Ha Tinh province to work in Russia in 2017, then on to Ukraine. In April 2018, he arrived in Germany then traveled to France. He told his family that he wanted to go to the UK.
Luong’s older brother, Pham Dinh Hai, said that Luong had a tattoo of praying hands on a cross on his right shoulder. The family said they shared the information with local authorities. Luong is also from Ha Tinh.
One of the newly named suspected victims, Nguyen Dinh Tu
The ex-soldier who left his wife and young son at home
One of the newly named suspected victims, Nguyen Dinh Tu, 26, had a few months ago asked his wife Hoang Thi Thuong to help him raise £11,000 ($14,000) to cover the cost of an illicit trip from Germany to the United Kingdom.
Ms Hoang revealed he had been working illegally in Romania and Germany and had begged her for money to get to the UK.
‘I lost contact with him on October 21,’ Thuong said with tears in her eyes. ‘I have a big debt to pay, no hope, and no energy to do anything’.
Tu’s father said relatives in the United Kingdom had told him that Tu was inside the truck, and had been planning to pick him up.
‘They were supposed to pick him up at the drop-off point but they called and said Tu was in that truck,’ Tu’s father, Nguyen Dinh Sat, said.
‘I haven’t heard anything from my son’.
Tu had a few months ago asked his wife Hoang Thi Thuong (pictured with her son) to help him raise £11,000 ($14,000) to cover the cost of an illicit trip from Germany to the United Kingdom
Father-of-two Vo Ngoc Nam, 28, is also feared to have been in the ill-fated container
Father-of-two who called his family on day of tragedy asking them to pray for his safe journey to Britain
Father-of-two Vo Ngoc Nam, 28, is also feared to have been in the ill-fated container.
His wife, Ta Thi Oanh, told Vietnamese media that he had called her last Tuesday afternoon to say he was on the truck going to Britain.
He asked her to call her parents and ask them to pray for him, but has not been heard of since.
Mr Nam’s father, Vo Ngoc Luyen, said: ‘After reading information about the 39 people in the container in the UK, my family is extremely shocked. We are anxiously waiting for official information from the authorities.’
Nam is believed to have travelled to Romania, before Germany and France, to find work. The local report described the family situation as ‘difficult’.
Hoang Van Tiep, 18, (right) is feared to have died alongside his cousin in the container
The youngest to die: Victim believed his £13,500 to traffickers would mean a taxi into Britain
Believed to be the youngest victim, Hoang Van Tiep, 18, is feared to have died with his cousin Hung Nguyen.
Tiep left home two years ago after his family got a £13,500 loan to pay for him to travel to Russia and on to France.
He had left his family in Yen Thanh to risk his life getting into the UK.
His father Hoag said his teenager son had also told him that he would be travelling by taxi to the UK. The family had raised the £17,500 to pay people smugglers get the teen into the UK.
Cousins Hung Nguyen, 33, (right) and Hoang Van Tiep (left) were both feared to be in the container
The dishwasher who had been trafficked to France and had waited for his cousin before crossing the Channel
Hung Nguyen, 33, had been working in France as a dishwasher before his trip to Britain.
His family paid smugglers £13,400 last year to get him to France, and were asked for a similar amount last week.
He was reunited with his cousin Hoang Van Tiep for the final leg of the journey to Britain and are feared dead together, their families say.
A picture of carpenter Le Van Ha is kept on a prayer altar at his house in Vietnam’s Nghe province
Former policeman who never met his new baby back home in Vietnam
Carpenter Le Van Ha is feared to have died without ever meeting his three-month-old son.
The 30-year-old left his heavily pregnant wife and their two young sons in June, when he travelled to Turkey, then Greece and France on his way to Britain.
Relatives said his widow Tran Thi Hoa, 29, was suffering from shock after she only learned he was missing when officials asked her for a photograph to help with identification.
His father Le Minh Huan said Ha had wanted to send money home to his family, to clear the £23,000 paid to people smugglers and another £6,600 loan to build his family’s home.
15-year-old Vietnamese boy being trafficked to Britain to be reunited with his parents
The family of Nguyen Huy Hung, 15, (centre as a child in 2006 with his older brother and sister) fear he may have been among those who died in a container last week as he tried to get to Britain to see his parents
Teenager Nguyen Huy Hung would be the youngest victim of the tragedy that claimed the lives of 39 people found dead in the back of a freezing trailer in Essex last Wednesday.
His family has claimed the 15-year-old had longed to be with his father Nguyen Huy Tung and his mother Nyguen Thi Huyen and had spent the past two months travelling to the UK to see them.
While his death has not been confirmed by police in Britain, Vietnamese police from the country’s capital Hanoi are supporting his relatives home in the remote village of Cuong Gian.
His elder sister, 16, who lives in Korea, told friends of Facebook: ‘My brother left France for the UK and we have not been able to contact him since then’.
An uncle has also travelled from the south of the country after the boy’s parents told authorities they lost contact with their son on October 22 – the day of the tragedy.
It is thought the parents – who are believed to be in the UK illegally – had paid people smugglers at least £10,000 to arrange the passage for their youngest son.