Trial opens for COVID-19 repatriation flight case

July 11, 2023 - 17:30
Of the defendants, 23 are accused of giving bribes that totalled over VNĐ226 billion ($9.5 million). The trial is expected to continue for one month.
The trial opened at the Hà Nội People's Court on Tuesday. VNA/VNS Photo Phạm Kiên

HÀ NỘI — The first-instance trial for violations related to COVID-19 repatriation flights opened on Tuesday in Hà Nội with 54 defendants

Among the defendants, 21 are being prosecuted for allegedly receiving bribes, many of which are former officials in the Government Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the Ministry of Health (MoH), and the Ministry of Transport (MoT).

A total of 23 other defendants are on the stand for allegedly giving bribes and four are accused of abusing their positions and powers while on official duty. 

Four more are accused of brokering bribery; one for fraudulent appropriation of property; and one is on trial for fraudulent appropriation of property and giving bribes. 

The Supreme People’s Procuracy said that in this case, 25 defendants abused their positions and powers and assigned tasks to receive bribes worth nearly VNĐ165 billion (US$7 million) while also causing damages of over VNĐ10 billion ($422,000). 

Of the defendants, 23 are accused of giving bribes that totalled over VNĐ226 billion ($9.5 million). The four bribery “brokers” are also responsible for VNĐ74 billion ($3.1 million) in bribery and VNĐ25 billion ($1 million) in fraudulent appropriation of property. 

The Government arranged a repatriation flight bringing 30 Vietnamese citizens back from Wuhan (China) in March 2020 in response to the emerging Covid-19 pandemic. 

One month later, several more repatriation flights were organised that only collected fees for airfare and quarantine at military facilities. 

In November 2020, due to the substantial demand for repatriation and the high costs of flights and quarantine, the government piloted 10 flights that were paid for by citizens who hoped to return to the country. 

These were called “combo flights”, and were managed by a working group comprised of officials from the health ministry, transport ministry, national defence ministry, foreign affairs ministry, and later the public security ministry. 

The arrangement process for these flights involved the Government Office providing advice and proposing government leaders approve flight plans according to the information from the MoFA. 

The MoFA, through its Consular Department, was responsible for developing and proposing plans for the “combo flights”, coordinating and discussing with the other ministries within the working group, submitting reports to the government for approval, and communicating the flight plans. 

Several provincial People’s Committees were in charge of quarantine plans at their localities. 

In this programme, businesses that organised the flights needed to arrange quarantine plans with localities, then submitted dossiers to the Consular Department (under the MoFA). 

The dossiers would then go through the working group for governmental approval. 

The bribery violations took place from September 2020 to December 2022, with multiple business representatives and individuals working in ministries involved in the process, according to the procuracy’s 102-page indictment presented at the court.

The trial is expected to continue for one month. — VNS