Vietnamese trafficker gets sentence lowered over UK refugee deaths

(Reuters) - Belgian court of appeal on Thursday lowered the prison sentence for Vietnamese trafficking gang leader Vo Van Hong over the manslaughter of 39 compatriots who suffocated in an airtight shipping container smuggled into Britain in 2019.

The Ghent court of appeal sentenced Vo Van Hong to 10 years in prison, reducing his original prison sentence by five years, kept his fine at 920,000 euro ($975,000), and said he didn't care about his victims.

"He took advantage of desperate people and wanted to make as much profit as possible. His victims were his income and the safety of the refugees was not a priority in any way", the court said in a summary of the case.

The bodies of the 39 Vietnamese people were found inside a container that had been placed on a ship in the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

The discovery of so many dead people - two as young as 15 - in the back of the truck on an industrial estate to the east of London shocked Britain, Belgium and Vietnam.

Most of those who died were from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in north-central Vietnam, where poor job prospects, environmental disasters and the promise of financial reward abroad tend to fuel migration.

Other co-defendants also saw their sentences reduced on appeal.

($1 = 0.9445 euros)

(Reporting by Charlotte Van Campenhout; Editing by Bernadette Baum)