A Vietnamese journalist received a huge amount of money, by local standards, from the director of a northern province’s investment department less than a week before his arrest on charges of money extortion, the Ministry of Public Security said on Wednesday.
Le Duy Phong, who works for Giao Duc Vietnam (Vietnam Education) newspaper, was caught red-handed receiving VND50 million (US$2,200) in cash from a local business in Yen Bai Province on June 22.
He is being detained as Yen Bai police are probing his alleged extorting money from the company.
The arrest of Phong came at a sensitive time as the journalist had previously written a series of articles on luxury villas and land plots suspiciously owned by the province’s officials.
Members of the public have been wondering whether the journalist had been lured into a trap to ‘pay the price’ for his anti-corruption articles.
Giao Duc Vietnam has also petitioned the Ministry of Public Security to investigate the case in order to ensure fairness and objectivity.
At a press meeting on Wednesday, the public security ministry was bombarded with questions regarding the Yen Bai scandal, with Do Kim Tuyen, deputy head of the ministry’s General Department of Police, eventually revealing some latest developments from the investigation.
Do Kim Tuyen speaks to reporters.
The case seems even more complicated after Tuyen divulged that prior to his arrest, Duy Phong met with Vu Quang Sang, the director of the Yen Bai investment department, on the morning of June 16, and appeared to ask him for bribery.
According to the case file, Phong showed Sang some information related to the department head’s wrongdoings and asked him to pay VND200 million ($8,811) to buy the journalist’s silence.
Sang immediately transferred half of the required sum to Phong, and the rest later the same day, Tuyen said.
The General Department of Police deputy head asserted that police are investigating the “money-giving act” of Sang, adding that “there is no immediate comment on this issue when the investigation remains underway.”
“If the investigation finds enough grounds that it was a bribery case, we would handle it,” Tuyen said.
“Police need time to ensure the probe is objective.”
Tuyen also confirmed that the public security ministry had received the request to have Phong’s extortion allegation probed by officers from the ministry, instead of Yen Bai police.
However, he asserted that the case would still be investigated by Yen Bai police and the ministry would “guide and oversee the investigation to ensure objectivity.”