Ho Chi Minh City People's Court
File photo: Policemen stand guard in front of Ho Chi Minh City People's Court HouseAude Genet/ AFP

A 73-year-old Australian woman has been given the death sentence in Vietnam for trafficking heroin. A court in southern Vietnam found her guilty of possessing 2.8 kg of heroin hidden in soap bars, which she claimed were given to her as gifts.

The Ho Chi Minh City Police newspaper reported that the Vietnam-born Australian woman, identified as Nguyen Thi Huong, was caught boarding a flight to Australia in December 2014 with 36 heroin-filled soap bars in her luggage.

Huong reportedly told the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court during her trial that a woman named Helen had given her the soap bars as gifts while they were on a trip to the coastal city of Vung Tau and that she was not aware of the contents of the soap bars. Local media also quoted her as telling the court that she was taking the bars to Australia to gift them to others. However, the Ho Chi Minh City Police newspaper said Huong could not prove that the other woman she identified as Helen was real.

Reuters reported that court officials and Australian diplomats in the city could not be reached for comments on the case and there was no immediate response from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to requests for information on the case and the verdict.

Following the verdict, the woman now faces death by lethal injection. In its ruling, the court termed the offence as an "extremely dangerous" crime against the community. In heroin smuggling cases, trafficking of 100 grams of heroin or more is punishable by death in communist Vietnam. Carrying out the death penalty through lethal injection was adopted in the country in late 2013, while earlier capital punishments were rendered through firing squads.

Huong has 15 days to appeal against her sentence.