Main offenders in Việt Á COVID test kit bribery scandal appeal for lighter sentences

May 15, 2024 - 18:01
Former health minister Nguyễn Thanh Long was sentenced to 18 years in prison for accepting bribes, the second heaviest sentence just after Việt Á's General Director


Former Minister of Health Nguyễn Thanh Long accosted to the appeal trial on Wednesday morning. — VNA/VNS Photo Phạm Kiên

HÀ NỘI — Twelve defendants in the high-profile Việt Á COVID-19 test kit scandal, including former Minister of Health Nguyễn Thanh Long and Việt Á Company's General Director Phan Quốc Việt, began their appeals yesterday to have their sentences reduced.

At Hà Nội High People's Court, the former health minister responded briefly to the panel's questions. At the first-instance trial, Long was sentenced to 18 years for accepting bribes, the second heaviest sentence after Việt. When asked if he wanted to change, supplement, or withdraw his appeal, Long replied, "No."

Before the appeal began, Long asked his family and relatives to pay an additional VNĐ1 billion to mitigate the consequences of the case.

Long received the largest amount of bribe money from Việt Á, about US$2.25 million, but still insisted that he did not influence the health ministry's approval, distribution of Việt Á test kits, or negotiation of the kit prices during the pandemic.

Phan Quốc Việt, Việt Á's top leader – originally handed a 29-year imprisonment sentence for bribery and serious violations of the bidding process – hoped the judges would reconsider the context and nature of his criminal acts for a reduced sentence.

Việt admitted his guilt as stated in the first-instance judgment but argued that the final estimates of damages of VNĐ1.2 trillion ($47.1 million) needed further clarification, particularly regarding cost issues.

Việt’s lawyer, on his behalf, argued for additional extenuating circumstances, noting that his client had actively cooperated with the investigators, who acknowledged his cooperation.

Importantly, Việt had disclosed his bribery activities, which helped clarify the criminal acts of other defendants, the lawyer argued.


Defendants at the appeal trial in Hà Nội on Wednesday. — VNA/VNS Photo Phạm Kiên

During the trial, the presiding judge also questioned Việt's relatives, including his wife and mother.

They requested the lifting of the seizure of savings books in the names of Việt's mother and children, totalling over VNĐ400 billion ($15.7 million).

The first-instance court determined these books as "assets obtained from the sale of Việt Á's test kits" and ruled to continue the seizure as part of the execution of the judgment.

Defendant Trịnh Thanh Hùng, former Deputy Director of the Department of Science and Technology for Economic-Technical Branches (Ministry of Science and Technology), presented new extenuating circumstances, including his family’s complete restitution of the bribery money, which he had not fully addressed at the first-instance trial (US$350,000).

Additionally, Hùng's family submitted an extra VNĐ50 million as redress.

Hùng also handed over several commendation certificates, medals, and reported on his charity activities to the appellate court for consideration in reducing his sentence.

According to the allegations, Việt Á produced over 8.7 million test kits, inflated the input material costs, and then sold or gifted more than 8.3 million test kits to various units and medical facilities across the country.

The appeal trial is expected to last for three days. — VNS