A former Vietnamese government minister and his deputy were sentenced on Saturday to a life term and 14 years in prison respectively in a case of corruption that is said to have cost the state budget almost U.S. $3 million, media sources said.
Son Bac Nguyen, former Minister of Information and Communications, and his deputy Tuan Quoc Tran were convicted by the Hanoi People’s Court for accepting bribes to arrange the acquisition of private TV company Audio Visual Global (AVG) by the state-controlled telecom firm MobiFone.
The acquisition, for which Son was paid U.S. $3 million and Tuan was paid U.S. $200,000 by AVG director Vu Nhat Pham, resulted in benefits to Vu and other company shareholders at a much higher value than AVG’s real worth, causing the losses to MobiFone, investigators found.
Following Vu’s repayment to the state of most of the money lost, and the submission of a petition calling for leniency for Vu signed by nearly 2,000 Vietnamese both in the country and abroad, Vu was handed a three-year term following his own conviction in the case.
Vietnam’s state-controlled Buddhist Church, to which Vu had made large contributions from his proceeds from the deal, was among those calling for leniency in Vu’s case, sources said.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Rev. Tu Nhat Thich of the state-controlled Buddhist Church said that Buddhist ethics forbid the use of “dirty money” as a source of alms.
“But this is still better than using the money for wrongdoing,” he said.
'No basis in law'
Religious organizations should not interfere in cases handled by the country’s courts, though, as this violates Vietnamese law, Vietnamese journalist Dan An Vo said, also speaking to RFA.
And while it was appropriate for Vietnamese living in the country to petition for leniency for Vu because of their sympathy for him, “I think that it was inappropriate for foreign residents to ask for leniency,” he said.
“For example, organizations promoting democracy and human rights may campaign for the release of prisoners of conscience, because it is their duty to do so."
"But for foreigners to ask for leniency for Vu is without any basis in law,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, Hanoi-based university professor Trang Van Mac said that calls for leniency are often made for prisoners of conscience who have fought for democracy or human rights or have joined in anti-China protests.
For example, hundreds of petitioners called on government and court authorities in January 2018 to reverse the death sentence imposed on a farmer named Hien who had shot dead three employees of a firm trying to evict him from fields he had farmed for years, Trang said.
The call to save Hien was ignored, but it now seems that a request for leniency was heeded in the case of Vu, who bribed state officials, he said.
“This is weird,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.