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Ex-Vietnamese embassy official in Malaysia prosecuted over pandemic flight scandal

Ex-Vietnamese embassy official in Malaysia prosecuted over pandemic flight scandal

Thursday, March 16, 2023, 16:32 GMT+7
Ex-Vietnamese embassy official in Malaysia prosecuted over pandemic flight scandal
Vietnamese citizens return to Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi on one of the repatriation flights conducted during the 2020-21 period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Tuan Phung / Tuoi Tre

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security has prosecuted a former official at the Vietnamese Embassy in Malaysia, as well as eight other individuals, including seven business leaders, for their alleged crimes in organizing repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens during the COVID-19 peak from 2020 to 2021.

The ex-official, Dang Minh Phuong, has been accused of “abusing positions and powers while performing duties” and been banned from leaving his residence, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Police officers searched Phuong’s home in late January 2022 in order to look for evidence of his involvement in the scandal, nearly two years after the first repatriation flight was launched in February 2020. 

Among the seven entrepreneurs who have been charged with giving bribes, Vu Minh Thang, 45, director of Thuan An Trading Investment Company Limited and chairman of Ascend Travel and Media - Thuan An Travel and Event Joint Stock Company, has been arrested.

The other six business people have been prohibited from leaving their homes, including Nguyen Thi Thanh Hang, 51, general director of Blue Sky Trading, Services and Tourism Company Limited and general director of Travel Sky Joint Stock Company; Le Van Nghia, 63, director of Nhat Minh Travel and Catering Joint Stock Company; Vo Thi Hong, 37, director of Minh Ngoc Trading and Service Ticket Room Air Company Limited; Tran Thi Mai Xa, 35, director of Vietnam Masterlife Education and Travel Joint Stock Company; Vu Thuy Duong, 36, director of Viet Travel Tourist Trading Joint Stock Company; and Phan Thi Mai, 39, director of Hanoi Star International Joint Stock Company.

Police officers have searched each individual’s office and home for evidence.

They also detained Tran Thi Ha Lien, a 44-year-old freelancer who they say was in charge of brokering the bribes.

The Supreme People’s Procuracy has approved the arrests.

These moves were the latest developments in the ministry’s investigation into a high-profile case of “bribery, abuse of positions and powers while performing duties, and fraudulent appropriation of assets” that occurred at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in Hanoi and other localities, according to the Vietnam News Agency.

The scandal was first brought to light on January 28, 2022, when police arrested Nguyen Thi Huong Lan, director of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Consular Department, as well as three of her subordinates, on suspicion of accepting bribes related to flights that repatriated Vietnamese citizens from countries hit hard by COVID-19. 

The ministry has so far prosecuted and detained more than 50 individuals, many of them government officials, for their involvement in the case.

The two highest-ranking officials who have so far been implicated in the investigation include former Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung and Vu Hong Nam, both of whom were arrested last year for taking bribes.

Nguyen Quang Linh, assistant to former Standing Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, was also detained in September 2022 on the same charges.

At a press conference held in June last year, the Ministry of Public Security’s Investigation Police Agency estimated that the total bribes in the case amounted to hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars and tens of billions of Vietnamese dong. (VND10 billion = US$421,600)

Vietnam organized nearly 2,000 repatriation flights during the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing home over 200,000 Vietnamese citizens from 60 countries and territories, according to the ministry.

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Vinh Tho - Than Hoang / Tuoi Tre News

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