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A closer look at poverty-stricken Yen Bai, home to multiple official-owned villas

Saturday, July 01, 2017, 12:56 GMT+7

Yen Bai, a mountainous province located some 180km northeastern from Hanoi, is a land full of opposites, where more than 55,000 households live in poverty while several officers are under scrutiny for owning luxury properties.

Yen Bai has made national headlines through June with at least three of the province’s department directors come under the spotlight over their sweeping personal villas.

The cases have attracted special attention from the media and sparked outrage among members of the public, considering that the province is one of the poorest localities in Vietnam.

As of June 2017, Yen Bai remains in the top ten ‘poorest’ provinces in Vietnam, those with the lowest per capita income and have to rely on food aid from the government.

With a population of 800,000, Yen Ban reported a per capita income of VND29 million (US$1,278) a year, compared to the country’s average figure, VND50 million ($2,203).

In April 2017, the government had to deliver more than 462 metric tons of rice in food aid to Yen Bai, a little lower than last year’s support of 553 tons.

According to a report by the social affairs ministry, as of the end of last year, Yen Bai had 55,437 households living in poverty.

anh-4-1435139544.jpgA poor mountainous village in Yen Bai

Huge personal assets

Pham Si Quy, director of the Yen Bai Department of Natural Resources and Environment, is under a government-run investigation over his 1.3 hectare complex that features not only several lavish villas but also a football field, swimming pool and a karaoke parlor.

Quy told reporters on Thursday that he has borrowed US$887,000 from bank loans to finance the complex construction.

Some bank experts say that in order to afford a bank loan of this size, one needs to have huge properties to use as collaterals and a monthly income of at least VND230 million ($10,132).

Quy is the younger brother of Pham Thi Thanh Tra, secretary of the provincial Party Committee, effectively the province’s top leader.

-mg-7069-1498616855.jpgQuy's villa

Another Yen Bai department head, Dang Tran Chieu, director of the police department, is also suspected of being the real owner of a sweeping villa complex in the province.

The provincial police chief has rejected all inquiries for comment from the media. At a press meeting on Friday, the Yen Bai administration said they are verifying the allegation and will publicize the result once the inspection is complete.

The property allegedly belonging to the Yen Bai police chief

The planning and investment counterpart of Quy and Chieu, even though not having any known luxury properties, also made headlines last week for allegedly bribing a local anti-corruption journalist.

Vu Xuan Sang, director of the Yen Bai Department of Planning and Investment, confirmed on Friday that he is being investigated for involvement in the case when journalist Le Duy Phong was arrested on charges of extortion.

Phong has previously written several articles about the villas owned by local officials and was caught red-handed when he was receiving cash from a local enterprise in Yen Bai last week.

Prior to his arrest, Phong met with Sang and reportedly asked the department head to give him VND200 million ($8,800) so the journalist would keep some negative information about him undisclosed.

Sang's house

Sang confirmed on Friday that he had given the money to Phong, but refused to comment whether it was an act of bribery, or why he had agreed to pay such a large sum of money to an anti-corruption journalist.

“Police are investigating and I cannot give any comment,” he said.

Back to August 2016, Yen Bai also attracted media attention after a chief forest ranger shot and killed the province’s Party chief and administration chairman before killing himself.

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