Following a recent rumor that products from the Vietnamese unit of leading Philippine food and beverage firm Universal Robina Corporation (URC) had lead content, a Facebook user has accused the firm of bribing local media, resulting in strong reaction from the accused.
On May 7, a test report from the National Institute of Food Control was spread on social media, saying the lead content in a sample of citric acid used by URC Vietnam stood at 0.84mg/kg, higher than the allowable level of 0.5 mg/kg.
The report sparked concern amongst local consumers that the C2 and Rong Do drinks could be dangerous, prompting the food safety watchdog to collect test samples.
The Vietnam Food Administration under the Ministry of Health took ten samples of citric acid, an ingredient used to produce the drinks, before announcing on May 13 that the lead content found in the ten is within limits.
However, many believe the data was falsified, prompting Facebook user named Ngoc Nga Tran to post a status on Tuesday accusing the URC subsidiary of bribing several Vietnamese media outlets, including the prominent online newspapers Doi Song Va Phap Luat (Life and Law), Giao Thong (Traffic), and Voice of Vietnam (VOV).
The Facebook account also stated that Golden Communication Group helped URC commit the act, saying that the firm specialized in organizing campaigns to manipulate the public while covering up and distorting the truth.
The status included a photo as evidence said to be a screenshot of a URC email, with the names of journalists from several Vietnamese media and press outlets listed alongside the amount each had been bribed.
Reaction from the accused
Many officials from those organizations listed in the denunciation, including the two firms and several members of the press, have shown strong reactions to the incident, asserting that the information is slandering and untrue.
VOV published an article officially denying the accusation, saying that the Facebook post was fabricated and an attempt to damage the reputation of the news outlet.
The newswire added that none of its employees had names that matched the posted list and that it had no business contract with the URC subsidiary.
A representative of Giao Thong affirmed on Wednesday that the agency had worked with Xuan Thu, the newspaper’s journalist who was listed on the Facebook post, though Thu asserted that the she did not receive VND200 million (US$8,940) to “protect URC” as alleged by Ngoc Nga Tran before saying the information was falsified.
During an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Thursday, an official from Doi Song Va Phap Luat said that reports have been submitted to ask for the investigation of the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Information and Communications.
Similar documents have also been sent to competent authorities by URC and Golden Communication Group to seek clarification in the case.
Recent probe and development
According to a Tuoi Tre source, the Ministry of Public Security has accepted the requests and coordinated with the Ministry of Information and Communications to verify the incident.
Initial investigation showed that Ngoc Nga Tran showed signs that it is an anonymous account, as all posted statuses were information related the URC scandal and the account itself was created in early May with no profile photos or user information.
In the latest post, the Facebook user issued apologies to some of the accused journalists, explaining that not all of them had accepted the bribes and that the list was the original plan set by the URC subsidiary and Golden Communication Group.
However, the post still stated that Doi Song Va Phap Luat had received VND300 million ($13,410) to help with the URC-cover up, along with a photo of a contract between the two parties.