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Trial for rescue flight bribes unveils staggering testimonies from over 50 officials in Vietnam

Trial for rescue flight bribes unveils staggering testimonies from over 50 officials in Vietnam

Saturday, July 15, 2023, 08:34 GMT+7
Trial for rescue flight bribes unveils staggering testimonies from over 50 officials in Vietnam
A collage of portraits of defendants currently on trial in Vietnam for their alleged involvement in bribery related to repatriation flights during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Tuoi Tre

An ongoing trial in Vietnam, centering around over 50 officials who are currently facing charges of alleged bribery in relation to repatriation flights during the COVID-19 pandemic, has brought to light a series of staggering testimonies.

The trial of 54 defendants was launched by the People’s Court of Hanoi on Tuesday and is expected to last for a month.

It follows a year-long investigation and involves a record number of nearly 120 defense lawyers.

According to the indictment, 21 defendants are accused of “taking bribes,” 23 are charged with “giving bribes,” four individuals are accused of “brokering bribes,” and an additional four are charged with “abusing position and power while performing duties.”

One defendant is prosecuted for “committing fraud for property appropriation” and another is accused of both “committing frauds for property appropriation” and “giving bribes.”

As reported by Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper on Monday, the total amount of bribery money in this case reached US$9.5 million.

This figure includes over $2 million that was given to police officials in an attempt to evade prosecution, according to data accessed by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

'I don't know...'

Among the defendants, To Anh Dung, former deputy minister of foreign affairs, and Nguyen Quang Linh, former assistant to the deputy prime minister, are facing the charge of “taking bribes.”

The testimonies they gave during the first three days of trial have drawn the public disdain.

“I was not aware that receiving money [bribes] is against the law,” said Dung, who took a sum of VND21.5 billion (nearly $1 million) in bribery.

“Assisting businesses in obtaining flight licenses resulted in my reception of $180,000, distributed in four batches, along with an additional VND100 million ($4,230),” Linh said.

Other staggering testimonies came from Vu Hong Nam, former Ambassador of Vietnam to Japan, Tran Van Tan, former deputy chairman of the People’s Committee of Quang Nam Province, and Pham Trung Kien, expert at the Ministry of Health’s Department of Medical Equipment and Works.

“Upon unwrapping the gift and discovering the money, a sense of panic overwhelmed me,” said Nam, who received a total bribe exceeding VND1.8 billion ($76,140) as reported by Cong An Nhan Dan (People’s Police) newspaper.

“I attempted to return the money, but my request was declined.

“Regrettably, I erred by not persisting in my efforts to return the money.”

Meanwhile, Tan justified his acceptance of the bribes, worth VND5 billion ($211,500), by asserting that they originated from private companies rather than the state funds and Kien said that he amassed a sum of VND42 billion ($1.77 million) and utilized it by lending to his relatives and making investments in properties located in Ba Vi and Hoai Duc Districts in Hanoi, as well as Mui Ne Town in Binh Thuan Province.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, former deputy director of the Hanoi Department of Public Security, cited “mercy” on overseas Vietnamese in need of flying home as the excuse for his bribery intermediation.

In contrast, the bribe givers confessed that they had no choices.

“They put difficulties on our way for eight occasions so that we had to spend a total of VND600 million ($25,380) obtaining a flight organization license,” said Vu Minh Thang, director of the Hanoi-based Thuan An Invetsment and Trade Co. Ltd., which is a flight ticket agent.

“During that period, the Consular Department’s actions were not aimed at safeguarding the people, but rather inconveniencing them,” said Dao Minh Duong, chairman of Vijasun JSC, which provides customs clearance and air ticketing services.

Anti-corruption campaign

In early 2020, Vietnam implemented strict measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, including closing its border, and arranged approximately 800 charter flights to repatriate its citizens from 60 countries and territories.

However, reports from officials and social media have exposed that travelers encountered intricate procedures and were subject to high airfare and quarantine fees to get back to Vietnam.

The bribery allegations arise as part of a widespread anti-corruption campaign that involves various deals made during Vietnam’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, Pham Binh Minh and Vu Duc Dam were dismissed from their positions as deputy prime ministers by the National Assembly, which functions as the highest organization of state power in Vietnam.

Minh previously held the role of foreign affairs minister, while Vu Duc Dam was responsible for overseeing the country’s pandemic containment strategies.

In connection with a scandal involving the distribution of COVID-19 testing kits, at least 100 officials and businesspeople, including Dam’s assistant, have been arrested.

Led by Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, this anti-corruption campaign also led to the resignation of State President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who took “political responsibility” for the wrongdoings of several officials, as stated in a party central committee statement in January.

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