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Illicit firecracker market heats up as Tet nears in Vietnam

Sunday, January 21, 2018, 12:19 GMT+7

The illegal trade of firecrackers has emerged as a thorny issue in Vietnam as the Lunar New Year holiday is coming.

The loud explosive fireworks are being sold both online and offline due to rising demand as the Lunar New Year, or Tet, festival is less than four weeks away.

Tet begins on February 16 but people normally start preparing for it one week before that and celebrate the holiday during the week after the date.

Lighting firecrackers was previously one of the common festive activities during the Lunar New Year in Vietnam.

In 1995, the production, trade, and use of any type of firecracker were banned due to potential dangers and fire hazards.

However, many people still neglect the law and use the explosives, especially during Tet.

On the night of January 13, undercover Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters arrived at a shop selling decorative paper in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City.

After the journalists said they wanted to buy some firecrackers, the shop owner, who was in her 40s, pulled out her phone and showed several videos of firecrackers.

“This type of firecracker can be ignited remotely, costing VND2.1 million [US$92] apiece. Regular firecrackers sell for VND180,000 [$8],” the seller said, adding that a 30 to 40 percent discount was applied for bulk purchase.

The products were sourced from Thailand and Cambodia, she continued.

“Place an order and we will have it delivered. We don’t keep the firecrackers here in our shop,” she stated.

At least three other shops were offering the illegal products at different prices.

The correspondents were then approached by two men, around 25, who said they could supply firecrackers in large amounts.

As the ‘buyers’ questioned the origin of the products, the young men raised their alert.

“I often ran into undercover cops. They were having their handcuffs ready as soon as I brought along the goods. Luckily, I managed to run away,” one of the guys elaborated.

“The firecrackers explode like a grenade! You will surely be fined if you get caught using them,” he added.

The journalists eventually persuaded the sellers to take a sample, which was in the shape of a small ball and cost VND12,000 ($0.5) each.

They also demonstrated how the firecracker worked, which indeed created a loud bang.

Online trade

Some firecracker sellers even took their business operations online.

The Tuoi Tre reporters contacted a man on Zalo, which was mentioned in an advertisement on his YouTube channel.

Zalo is a locally-made mobile-based free texting and calling app which is popularly used by Vietnamese people.

Upon being called, the seller introduced himself as Quang, who resides in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong.

Quang continued advertising a variety of firecrackers, which were offered at VND30,000 ($1.3) to VND400,000 ($18) per package.

“I can ship the products to other provinces in the Central Highlands, as well as localities in the southern region and the Mekong Delta,” the man continued.

“If you live in northern Vietnam, I can refer to a local seller,” he added.

Buyers are required to pay 30 percent of the total value in advance.

Chemical ingredients used in the production of firecrackers are also sold in the country.

A Zalo user named Tyt offered potassium chlorate and potassium nitrate at VND80,000 ($3.5) per kilogram, and sodium benzoate at VND90,000 ($4) a kilogram.

Tyt was highly cautious as he refused to provide a phone number or bank account information, and required the 'customers' to pay via prepaid phone cards.

According to the Penal Code, firecracker is considered a prohibited product, said Le Trung Phat, a member of the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association.

Those who produce, trade, transport, or store firecrackers weighing six kilograms and over are subject to a fine worth up to VND3 billion ($132,107) or a jail term of up to 15 years.

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