Vietnam has suspended three more officials in the railway sector during the ongoing investigation into an allegation by Japan’s media that a Japanese firm paid over US$780,000 in bribes in the Southeast Asian country to win an ODA project order worth more than $41 million.
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The total number of suspended officials has risen to four since Friday when the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that Japan Transportation Consultants, Inc. (JTC) paid ¥80 million ($782,640) in kickbacks in return for an ODA project order worth ¥4.2 billion ($41,088,600) in Vietnam.
The newspaper also pointed out “a senior official of an office responsible for project administration at Vietnam Railways [Corporation]” in its accusation.
The project is to build the Yen Vien-Ngoc Hoi railway route in Hanoi, according to one of the suspended officials. The latest suspensions were announced on Monday by the Vietnam Railway Authority (VRA) under the Ministry of Transport.
One of the newly suspended officials is Tran Quoc Dong, a deputy general director of the state-owned Vietnam Railways Corporation (VRC).
Dong served as a director of VRC’s management board for railway projects in 2009.
The second is Tran Van Luc, the head of a project board under VRA and a former director of VRC’s management board for railway projects from 2000 to 2009.
The third is Ngo Anh Tao, another deputy general director of VRC, who currently supervises VRC’s management board for railway projects.
VRA said both Dong and Luc would be suspended for 10 days and Tao for 15 days, starting March 24.
Earlier on March 23, Nguyen Van Hieu was suspended from his post as the director of the management board for railway projects.
Hieu confirmed to Tuoi Tre on Sunday that the Yen Vien-Ngoc Hoi railway route is now in the spotlight in association with the Japanese allegation.
These officials have been ordered to write reports on their responsibilities in the project and the deadline for their submissions is March 31, the VRA said.
At a meeting in Hanoi on Sunday, Transport Minister Dinh La Thang emphasized, “The ministry will decisively and promptly examine and clarify the allegation reported by the media and will strictly punish wrongdoers, no matter who they are.”
Suspended officials’ responses
All four officials spoke with Tuoi Tre newspaper on Monday regarding their suspension.
Tran Quoc Dong, a deputy general director of VRC, told the newspaper over the phone: “I am in a meeting but I won’t give an answer. Our agency has assigned a person as a spokesperson for this matter.”
Ngo Anh Tao, another deputy general director of VRC, said that he was writing a relevant report. “I affirmed that I am not involved in the alleged bribery case. Everything I’ve done is in accordance with applicable procedures and processes. I did not contact JTC when they signed the [consultant] contract. I worked with them only after the contract was signed. I don’t know what happened before that.”
Nguyen Van Hieu, director of the management board for railway projects, said, “As a Party member and the head of the management board for railway projects, I affirmed that I did not receive any money from JTC. I have confirmed this with the transport minister.”
Meanwhile, Tran Van Luc, head of the project board under the VRA, said that he has submitted a written report to the transport ministry regarding all relevant issues.
Deputy Minister of Transport to go to Japan today
Deputy Minister of Transport Nguyen Ngoc Dong had a meeting with the Japanese Embassy and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) about the bribery allegation on Monday.
At the meeting, the deputy minister affirmed that the transport ministry will clarify the allegation reported by the media and will strictly punish any wrongdoers.
However, Dong has yet to obtain concrete information from the Japanese side regarding the alleged bribery since Japan’s investigation agencies have not released official information on the accusation.
Under an assignment by Transport Minister Dinh La Thang, Dong will leave Vietnam for Japan today, March 25, to directly work with the Tokyo Tax Authority, the special investigation team of the Tokyo prosecutor’s office, and Yomiuri Shimbun, the Japanese newspaper that reported the alleged bribery case on March 21.
Yomiuri Shimbun said in an article that JTC allegedly bribed civil servants in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Uzbekistan with ¥130 million ($1,271,790) from February 2008 to February of this year in order to receive orders for five Japanese ODA-funded projects in these countries.
In a related development, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc assigned on Monday the Ministry of Public Security to coordinate with the Ministries of Transport and Foreign Affairs and the Supreme People’s Procuracy to handle the case.