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Vietnam police announce motive in fatal shootings of top provincial officials

Tuesday, December 27, 2016, 15:31 GMT+7

The forest ranger chief of a northern Vietnamese province who shot two top officials to death before killing himself in August may have been angered by the deceased’s personnel change decision, police said Monday.

On the morning of August 18, Do Cuong Minh, head of Yen Bai Province’s forest ranger unit, fatally shot the provincial Party chief, Pham Duy Cuong, and the chairman of the People's Council, Ngo Ngoc Tuan, at the headquarters of the provincial Party Committee, before taking his own life.

After four months of investigation, Yen Bai police held a press meeting on Monday to announce the gunman’s motive, which appears to be his ire over losing the position as forest ranger chief under a personnel reshuffle announced ten days before the shootings.

Disappointment over losing top job

Police said they had closely worked with Minh’s family members and colleagues, and eventually ruled out personal, economic, political and debt conflicts as the gunman’s motive.

Officers then focused on a rearrangement and personnel reshuffle plan of the Yen Bai administration, according to which the forest ranger unit and its forestry counterpart were merged into one entity, bearing the former’s name.

The provincial agriculture department was tasked with conducting the merger, as well as selecting the head of the merged entity with two options, Minh and Kieu Tu Giang, head of the forestry unit.

However, on August 7, in an official proposal submitted to the province’s Party Committee, the agriculture department suggested that its deputy director Mai Mong Tuan be chief of the new forest ranger agency, with both Minh and Giang being his deputies.

Such a decision effectively meant a demotion for Minh, which resulted in anger and dissatisfaction in him, “eventually leading to his shooting Cuong and Tuan to death,” Pham Anh Son, deputy head of the province’s investigative police unit told reporters.

Minh chose to vent his anger on the two officials because Cuong, as the Party chief, was the province’s highest-ranking official whereas Tuan was also head of the provincial Personnel Board, the committee in charge of personnel appointment for public entities in the province.

At the Q&A session later in the press briefing, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper questioned Yen Bai police if Minh, himself a Party member, could really commit such a gruesome murder just because of losing his chief position.

Members of the public also wondered whether corruption was involved, in a manner that Minh had bribed the officials to keep his job but did not receive what he wanted in the end, leading to the bloody revenge.

In response, Pham Ngoc Thang, the province’s deputy police chief, said officers had carefully verified and considered all possible scenarios before coming to that final conclusion.

“In July Minh told his wife that he would go to meet Cuong to tell him that he just wanted to have a stable job at the forest ranger agency,” Thang said.

“The wife also said they did not have any economic relations with either of the deceased officials.”

Huge assets in office

Tuoi Tre also asked Yen Bai police to verify allegations that a huge amount of cash and valuable assets, totally worth “hundreds of billions of dong,” were stashed in the offices of the officials. Thang said it was a groundless rumor.

He confirmed, however, that US$100,000 and VND1.5 billion ($66,964) in cash were found in a safe in Tuan’s office.

“Our investigation showed that the money did not belong to the Personnel Board, and Tuan was not indebted to anyone,” Thang said.

The official’s wife, Vu Thi Thu Hien, told officers that the money was their personal savings for years, and Tuan thought it was safer to keep it in his office than at his home.

Officers also found VND50 million ($2,232) in cash in the office of Cuong.

Yen Bai police said they had returned all the money to the family of both deceased officials, as these are considered their personal assets.

Lawyer Truong Xuan Tam, a member of Vietnam’s national lawyer association, said there is no rule banning state employees from keeping their personal assets at public workplaces.

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