Residents on Phu Quoc Island off the southern Vietnamese province of Kien Giang have been losing sleep lately following repeated incidents of gang members blatantly occupying locals’ land to demand money.
Huynh Hong Hiep, a Phu Quoc resident, owns a 1,500-square-meter plot of land on the island where he grows perennial crops for a living.
When a land fever broke out in Phu Quoc recently, Hiep applied for a certificate of land use rights, commonly known as the ‘red book’ in Vietnamese, to formalize his ownership over the land plot.
However, while his application was being processed, Hiep said a group of men arrived on four cars and started erecting fences and a prefabricated house on his land, which only took one night to complete.
Even after he had legally obtained his red book, Hiep said he could not step onto his own land for fear of being assaulted by the hostile strangers, who stood guard over the area 24/7.
His plea for help to the administration of Kien Giang Province was answered with a directive asking the Phu Quoc chairman to handle the case with urgency.
However, no action has been taken by the local authority since then, Hiep said, leaving him with no choice but to take the matter into his own hands by hiring ten bodyguards to take over the land with force.
“But it was not the end of the story,” he added.
“I receive phone calls, threatening to have my land re-appropriated, almost every day.”
|Bodyguards are hired by a land owner to keep watch over a piece of land on Phu Quoc Island off Kien Giang Province in southern Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
The gangsters prey on not only land owned by regular residents but also estates that belong to large investment projects, according to Ngo Truong Thy, general director of Saigon Sovico Phu Quoc Company.
A plot of land where the company plans to develop a project in Phu Quoc’s Cuu Duong Commune has been illegally occupied by a group of strange men, he said.
Public land was neither spared from gangsters’ grip, as they have publicly occupied and offered for sale areas owned and managed by the administration of Ham Ninh Commune.
According to victims of gang activities in Phu Quoc, the gangsters often demand a payment of 10-20 percent the value of the land they occupy in exchange for their withdrawal.
Those who refuse to pay risk being dragged into a legal dispute over land ownership, as the criminals would go as far as declaring the land their possession using fake papers.
In the first six months of 2018 alone, authorities in Phu Quoc have received 258 formal complaints concerning land disputes, of which only 28 have been resolved, according to the provincial inspectorate.
Phu Quoc Island is among three locations where Vietnam plans to develop new special economic zones in a US$69.16 billion scheme to lure foreign investment.
The zones – Phu Quoc, Van Don, and Bac Van Phong – will offer potential foreign investors fewer restrictions and greater incentives, including visa waiver policies, tax exemptions, and the legalization of activities outlawed elsewhere in the country.
News of the project initiated a race to own estates on Vietnam’s largest island, as many locals became billionaires overnight through sales of their land.
Concerns about a potential land bubble in Phu Quoc also prompted banks to tighten restrictions on loans taken for investment into the real estate sector.
|Signs advertising land sale on Phu Quoc Island off Kien Giang Province in southern Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
“We have requested police raids into the illegal constructions and are currently taking steps to eradicate the illegal activity,” said Dinh Khoa Toan, chairman of Phu Quoc.
A team of officers from Kien Giang police and the Ministry of Public Security are already on the island to investigate the situation, a provincial police chief said on Monday.
As of June 19, 160 suspects have been summoned for questionings over links to the mafia-like activity, of whom 63 had been charged and imprisoned for past crimes.
A majority of these gangsters are not local people but have come from northern provinces, police say.
“We will immediately arrest suspects who are caught red-handed making threats or destroying properties following citizens’ report,” said Luu Thanh Tin, deputy police chief of Kien Giang.