Pham Trung Kien, former secretary of a deputy minister of health, told a first-instance court hearing on Friday that he was haunted and wanted to die to break out of pressure as he might face the highest sentence of death for his involvement in a shocking repatriation flight bribery scandal in Vietnam.
Kien and over 50 officials are on trial, which began on Tuesday, for taking bribes to approve repatriation flights during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 to 2021.
The trial is set to drag on for one month.
“After a long time of treatment for COVID-19, I was notified of an investigation into and prosecution against the rescue flight case. I was coming under immense pressure,” he said at the trial in Hanoi.
“Specially, when I worked with investigators, and knew that I could be sentenced to death on bribe-taking charges, I was scared and obsessed with the highest punishment."
Kien also claimed to be admitted to Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi due to symptoms of mental illness.
He was charged with abusing his power while on duty to pass applications for rescue flight arrangement, taking 253 bribes at a total value of over VND42.6 billion (US$1.8 million) from individuals and enterprises.
However, the accused declared that after firms sent their applications for repatriation flights to the Ministry of Health, they would be transferred to the Vietnam General Department of Preventive Medicine for consulting processes.
The department would then make a proposal and send it to the deputy minister of health via Kien.
“I just received applications and sent them to the deputy minister for consideration and approval. I was not in charge of passing or denying them,” Kien declared.
He rejected the testimonies of relevant firms that he forced them to give bribes.
“I did not ask any firm to give money to be granted a certificate for rescue flights. Instead, they contacted me for help,” he said.
After the pandemic broke out, Vietnam launched some 2,000 repatriation flights to take home more than 200,000 Vietnamese nationals from 60 countries and territories, as commercial flights were not available during the period, reported Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper.
The home-returning flight cost them a lot, causing a public uproar.
Therefore, a probe into violations over the repatriation flights was conducted in January 2022, with 54 suspects charged with bribe brokering, giving and taking, abuse of power while on duty and asset misappropriation. Among them are 21 former top officials.
Of the accused, 18 might face the highest sentences of 20 years in jail, life imprisonment, and death penalty.
Of the 54 defendants, 21 are accused of taking bribes under Article 354 of the Penal Code, while 23 are charged with giving bribes under Article 364 of the Penal Code, four are charged with brokering bribes under Article 365 of the Penal Code, and four others are accused of abusing positions and powers while on duty as per Article 356 of the Penal Code, the Vietnam News Agency reported.
One defendant is prosecuted for the charge of committing fraud for property appropriation under Article 174, and another is accused of committing fraud for property appropriation and giving bribes.
The 21 defendants charged with taking bribes include Nguyen Quang Linh, former assistant to the permanent deputy prime minister; Nguyen Thanh Hai, director of the International Relations Department of the Government Office; and Nguyen Tien Than and Nguyen Mai Anh, specialists of the International Relations Department of the Government Office.
Former officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who face the same charge include former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung, former head of the Consular Department Nguyen Thi Huong Lan, former deputy head of the department Do Hoang Tung, former chief of the department’s office Le Tuan Anh, and former deputy head of the department’s citizen protection desk Luu Tuan Dung.
Police filed the same charge against Vu Hong Nam, former Ambassador of Vietnam to Japan; Nguyen Hong Ha, former Consul General of Vietnam in Osaka, Japan; Ly Tien Hung, former official of the Vietnamese Embassy in Russia; and Vu Ngoc Minh, former Ambassador of Vietnam to Angola.
In addition, the other defendants charged with receiving bribes are Pham Trung Kien; Ngo Quang Tuan, expert from the Ministry of Transport’s Department of International Cooperation; Vu Hong Quang, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam’s Air Transport Department; Tran Van Du, Vu Anh Tuan and Vu Sy Cuong, former officers of the Ministry of Public Security’s Immigration Department; Tran Van Tan, former vice-chairman of the People's Committee of Quang Nam Province; and Chu Xuan Dung, former vice-chairman of the Hanoi People’s Committee.
The total amount of bribery money in this case reached $9.5 million, according to Thanh Nien.