Eight Thai people who claim to be employed by Chinese bosses were arrested Friday after police in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang caught them red-handed soaking durians in unregistered Chinese-made ripening chemicals.
The arrest came after days of investigation into two fruit storage facilities, said police.
They were detained after being caught applying unregistered ripening chemicals on durians, and working in Vietnam without a license at the two facilities under Thai Lan Co and Sang Huong Co, said the local police agency.
The eight foreigners are Siriruang, Sursing, and Aumsuepchue (working at Thai Lan Co's facility) and Phaeyai, Phuangkan, Srikanmsuk, Kiadthawiphong, and Sutham (working at Sang Huong Co’s facility).
They said they entered Vietnam more than a month ago for travel purposes and stayed at the two facilities, being hired by some unknown Chinese bosses to collect quality durians for export to China and Indonesia.
Before the local police launched the surprise inspections, Tuoi Tre reporters had launched their own investigations at the two places to find out what the foreigners were paid to do there.
At the facility under Thai Lan Co, there were around 20 local male and female workers carrying durians from trucks to the group of Thai employees so that they would be free to pick what they wanted.
The Thai employees then guided local workers to bring the fruit to a separated chamber for soaking, stamping them with Chinese labels and placing them in cartons with Chinese wordings. They will be stocked in a warehouse waiting for export.
A female worker told Tuoi Tre undercover reporters that the main job of those foreigners is to pick the right durians, while local workers will do the rest under their watch.
Tuoi Tre reporters kept watch on a closed-door chamber in which dubious chemicals were mixed, and found a Thai nationality enter the place for a long time, then come back with two local workers carrying a 40-liter bucket of dark-yellow water used to soak the durians in.
The workers there said the facility used about 10 buckets daily, each of which can be used for about 700 durians of all sizes.
Penetrating into this secret chamber, Tuoi Tre reporters saw a Thai mixing three main chemicals with small proportions of other chemicals into 30 liters of water.
A male worker working on the soaking job there said after being applied, the durian will be preserved for a longer period of time, while the fruit will ripe thoroughly, and the ripening time is under control.
Slapping on the wrist?
According to the local police agency, those Thai workers may be fined VND10-20 million ($470-940) each, while the owners of the two facilities will get some administrative sanctions.
Khong Minh Sang, owner of Sang Huong Co, told the police that his company buy durians to export to a Chinese firm named Quoc Chinh Co.
After the durians are transported to Quoc Chinh Co via Tan Thanh border gate in the northern province of Lang Son, the money will be transferred to Thai Lan Co’s bank account, without any contracts.
The Chinese partners also chose five Thai employees for the fruit picking job, and paid all the expenses, he said.
Mr. Sang argued that after the Thai people arrived, he planned to declare this with local authorities, but as he received no instructions, he only realized he had violated the law after the police’s inspection.
Mr. Sang also admitted that the Chinese chemicals brought in by the Thai workers were used for ripening the fruit at will and lengthening the preservation.
Tran Thi Thu Thanh , deputy director of Thai Lan Co , said the local durians are bought to be exported to Indonesia.
In six months, the firm shipped four containers to Indonesia with around 400-850 cartons weighing 18 to 18.5 kilograms each. The three Thai employees are hired to select quality durians for export, she added.
Dr. Nguyen Van Hoa - vice chairman of Southern Fruit Institute, said the use of chemicals for ripening is allowed, but such chemicals must be approved by authorities and be listed clearly in the label. Therefore, the act of bringing chemicals of unknown origin to soak durians in is illegal.
Tien Giang police so far this year have fined and deported six Chinese after discovering them visiting the province to buy agro produce in mass volume without permits.