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Former Vietnamese health minister indicted for taking $2.25mn bribes in test kit scandal

Former Vietnamese health minister indicted for taking $2.25mn bribes in test kit scandal

Sunday, October 01, 2023, 16:10 GMT+7
Former Vietnamese health minister indicted for taking $2.25mn bribes in test kit scandal
Former Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long was charged with receiving $2.25 million as bribes in a case linked to Viet A Technology Corporation’s gouging of COVID-19 test kit prices. Photo: Nam Tran / Tuoi Tre

The Supreme People's Procuracy of Vietnam on Saturday issued an indictment against former Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long for receiving US$2.25 million in bribes to let a local company inflate COVID-19 test kit prices.

The procuracy also indicted 37 others in the case linked to Ho Chi Minh City-based Viet A Technology Corporation’s gouging of COVID-19 test kit prices.

Among them were many former high-ranking officials, such as ex-chairman of the Hanoi People’s Committee and former Minister of Science and Technology Chu Ngoc Anh; former secretary of the Party Committee of northern Hai Duong Province Pham Xuan Thang; Nguyen Van Trinh, ex-assistant to a deputy prime minister; and ex-Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Pham Cong Tac.

Anh was accused of violating regulations on state asset management and use, causing losses and wastefulness.

Meanwhile, Long and five others, including his ex-secretary Nguyen Huynh; former director of the Hai Duong Center for Disease Control (CDC) Pham Duy Tuyen; Trinh Thanh Hung, a former official of the Ministry of Science and Technology; and Nguyen Minh Tuan and Nguyen Nam Lien, ex-officials of the Ministry of Health, were charged with receiving bribes.

Phan Quoc Viet, chairman and CEO of Viet A Technology Corporation, and his subordinate Vu Dinh Hiep were indicted on charges of giving bribes and violating bidding regulations, causing serious consequences.

Prosecutors accused Viet of offering bribes worth VND106 billion ($4.4 million) to six high-ranking officials to join a major test kit research project during the COVID-19 outbreak, obtain test kit circulation licenses, and manipulate test kit prices.

Former Minister of Health Long received the largest bribes among the accused.

In particular, Long’s ex-secretary Huynh phoned Viet, asking him to give Long $1 million in 2021.

After preparing money, Viet came to Huynh’s house on Van Cao Street in Tay Ho District, Hanoi with a bag containing $1 million and VND2 billion ($82,362). The $1 million was later sent to Long, while the VND2 billion was for Huynh.

Ten months later, Long sent a text message to Huynh, asking him to suggest the Viet A chairman prepare another amount.

In early November 2021, Viet gave Huynh an additional $1 million, which was also transferred to Long.

Viet gave Long two other bribes, including $50,000 at the headquarters of the Ministry of Health on June 29, 2021 and $200,000 via Huynh.

Former Minister of Science and Technology Chu Ngoc Anh was accused of receiving bribes worth $200,000. Photo: Nam Tran / Tuoi Tre

Former Minister of Science and Technology Chu Ngoc Anh was accused of receiving bribes worth $200,000. Photo: Nam Tran / Tuoi Tre

Meanwhile, former Minister of Science and Technology Anh and ex-Deputy Minister Pham Cong Tac were aware that the test kit research project was owned by the state, but they allowed Viet A, a private company, to join it.

Tac even signed a decision to establish an acceptance council for the first phase of the research, paving the way for Viet A to illegally obtain test kit circulation licenses, produce and sell the test kits.

On March 5, 2020, the two ex-leaders of the Ministry of Science and Technology directed the organization of a press briefing to announce the research results.

The ministry also issued a press release stating that Viet A’s COVID-19 test kits had been licensed and recognizing the corporation’s test kit production capability.

Anh required Trinh Thanh Hung to coordinate with the Ministry of Science and Technology’s Department of Emulation and Reward to award a certificate of merit to Viet A Technology Corporation and its chairman, while proposing that the prime minister commend and reward them.

Their acts helped promote Viet A’s brand and image, facilitating it turning test kits owned by the state into its own products, causing losses of VND18.98 billion ($781,616) to the state budget.

Anh and Tac also received $200,000 and $50,000 as bribes from Viet.

Phan Quoc Viet, chairman and CEO of Viet A Technology Corporation, was accused of giving bribes totaling VND106 billion ($4.4 million) to high-ranking officials.

Phan Quoc Viet, chairman and CEO of Viet A Technology Corporation, was accused of giving bribes totaling VND106 billion to high-ranking officials.

In 2020, after obtaining a circulation license for one-step RT-PCR test kits, the first-ever made in Vietnam, Viet A supplied the test kits to CDCs and other medical facilities of 62 provinces and cities, raking in nearly VND4 trillion ($164.7 million).

Given the increasing demand for COVID-19 test kits amid a serious outbreak that hammered Vietnam in April 2021, Viet colluded with the CDC directors of several localities to hike the prices of such kits in order to give them a kickback.

Viet admitted he had directed his staff to overstate the prices of production equipment and input materials in order to hike the selling price of a test kit to VND470,000 ($19.35), or 45 percent over its value.

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Thanh Ha - Than Hoang / Tuoi Tre News

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