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Vietnam suspends trial for pandemic repatriation flight bribery defendants to present proof

Vietnam suspends trial for pandemic repatriation flight bribery defendants to present proof

Monday, July 17, 2023, 17:01 GMT+7
Vietnam suspends trial for pandemic repatriation flight bribery defendants to present proof
Defendants are in the dock in Hanoi for their crimes in the arrangement of flights to repatriate Vietnamese citizens stranded overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Nam Anh / Tuoi Tre

The Hanoi People’s Court on Monday morning suspended a trial for 54 defendants, who are currently facing charges of bribery in relation to repatriation flights during the COVID-19 pandemic, for two hours so that the defendants could provide proof of their efforts to ease the consequences of their violations before the municipal People’s Procuracy proposes sentences against them.

According to the court, updates on defendants’ acts to ease the consequences of their violations would help procurators suggest appropriate sentences. 

The People’s Court of Hanoi launched the first-instance trial of 54 defendants on Tuesday last week and expected to finish it in a month.

Of the defendants, 21 are accused of taking bribes, while 23 are charged with giving bribes, four with brokering bribery, and four others with abusing positions and powers while on duty.

One defendant is being prosecuted for committing fraud for property appropriation and the other is accused of committing fraud for property appropriation and giving bribes, the Vietnam News Agency reported.

The total amount of bribery money in this case reached US$9.5 million, according to Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper.

That included about $2.65 million given to police officials to avoid prosecution.

During the four first days of the trial, defendants who are ex-officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Government Office, and the Immigration Department under the Ministry of Public Security admitted that they took bribes worth billions to tens of billions of Vietnamese dong each from enterprises to approve repatriation flights. (VND1 billion = $42,251)

However, most of them denied that they had forced or suggested enterprises to give bribes, adding that they only received money as ‘thank-you gifts’ after having arranged such repatriation flights.

Former Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung (in a checked shirt) is taken to the court in Hanoi. Photo: Danh Trong / Tuoi Tre

Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung (in a checked shirt) is taken to the court in Hanoi. Photo: Danh Trong / Tuoi Tre

The most high-ranking ex-official facing charges in this case is former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung, who stands trial for taking bribes.

He repeatedly affirmed that he neither caused difficulties nor forced enterprises to give him money before approving repatriation flights.

However, he admitted to having received VND21.5 billion ($908,516), reasoning that at the time, he was not aware that receiving bribes was against the law.

Pham Trung Kien (C, first row), former secretary of a deputy minister of health, at the courtroom. Photo: Nam Anh / Tuoi Tre

Pham Trung Kien (C, first row), former secretary of a deputy minister of health, in the courtroom. Photo: Nam Anh / Tuoi Tre

Meanwhile, Pham Trung Kien, former secretary of a deputy minister of health, was charged with abusing his power while on duty, taking 253 bribes at a total value of over VND42.6 billion ($1.8 million) from individuals and enterprises.

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 claimed.

On the other hand, many defendants who are owners of enterprises declared that former officials told them to give money or caused difficulties to force them to bribe, at hundreds of millions of Vietnamese dong per rescue flight. (VND100 million = $4,222)

Vu Minh Thang, director of Hanoi-based Thuan An Company, stated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Consular Department rejected his company’s applications for a rescue flight license eight times.

His company got the license in the ninth application after he gave VND600 million ($25,338) to Nguyen Thi Huong Lan, former director of the department.

He later received phone calls from Kien and Vu Anh Tuan, former officer of the Ministry of Public Security’s Immigration Department, who told him to spend VND150-200 million ($6,334-8,446) per repatriation flight.

Dao Minh Duong, chairman of Hai Phong City-headquartered Vijasun JSC, affirmed that he witnessed Kien shouting at an enterprise's representatives and requesting them to pay VND150 million ($6,334) per rescue flight in a meeting hall of the Ministry of Health.

Duong added that during that time, Kien called him at 8:30 pm every day to urge him to transfer money.

Hoang Van Hung, an ex-investigator from the Ministry of Public Security, is taken to the court in Hanoi. Photo: Danh Trong / Tuoi Tre

Hoang Van Hung, an ex-investigator from the Ministry of Public Security, is taken to the court in Hanoi. Photo: Danh Trong / Tuoi Tre

Many ex-officials were also accused of taking bribes to help enterprises avoid investigation.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, former deputy director of the Hanoi Police, said he received money from Nguyen Thi Thanh Hang, former deputy general director of Blue Sky Trading, Services and Tourism Company in Hanoi, and shared it with Hoang Van Hung, an ex-investigator from the Ministry of Public Security, to help Le Hong Son, former general director of Blue Sky, who was arrested earlier for giving bribes.

Tuan said he gave Hung hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars after each meeting with Hang.

Hung told Tuan to prepare $450,000, including $350,000 for the procuracy and $100,000 for other officials, then divide the money into two bags and put them in a Samsonite attaché case, Tuan added.

Tuan later asked his subordinate to hand over the case to Hung.

According to the indictment, Tuan declared he had kept $400,000 and transferred a total of $2.25 million to Hung.

Meanwhile, Hung denied the accusation, saying that he would plead guilty if the procuracy gives a piece of evidence.

He said he met Hang at Tuan’s house but did not discuss how to save Son. He claimed innocence.

Hung admitted to receiving the Samsonite case but it contained four wine bottles, not cash.

Tuan is charged with brokering bribery, while Hung is accused of appropriating assets.

According to the indictment, in early 2020, Vietnam started closing itself off to the world in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The country organized nearly 2,000 flights during the COVID-19 pandemic to repatriate more than 200,000 Vietnamese nationals from 60 countries and territories, as commercial flights were not available during the period, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

During the process of licensing the flights and approving the quarantine plans in localities from September 2020 to December 2022, a number of officials from ministries and sectors as well as individuals from businesses, along with other people, committed law violations.

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Thanh Ha - Than Hoang / Tuoi Tre News

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