Verdict announced in repatrion flight bribery scandal, life sentence harshest

July 28, 2023 - 18:28
A total of 21 defendants were convicted of taking bribes, 23 convicted of giving bribes, four of abusing positions while discharging their duties, two of frauds and misappropriation of assets and four with bribery brokerage.
Hà Nội People's Court on Friday delivered their verdicts against 54 defendants in the repatriation flight scandal. — VNA/VNS Photo Phạm Kiên

HÀ NỘI — Hà Nội People's Court on Friday delivered verdicts in the case of 54 defendants involved in the high-profile repatriation flight bribery scandal.

A total of 21 defendants were convicted of taking bribes, 23 convicted of giving bribes, four of abusing positions while discharging their duties, two of frauds and misappropriation of assets and four with bribery brokerage.

The judge panel said this is a particularly serious case, with officials taking advantage of their power and positions to take bribes. The bribery took place over a long period of time, forcing businesses involved in organisation of repatriation flights for citizens stranded overseas during COVID-19 lockdown times to raise the prices of the tickets, causing losses for the people who wished to return home while the pandemic had already resulted in serious economic hardship.

Phạm Trung Kiên, former assistant to the deputy health minister, who received the most money as bribes from businesses to 'facilitate' approval processes for repatriation flights, got life sentence, a reduction from the death sentence that the Procuracy originally sought (the harshest sentence in this case).

The Procuracy said Kiên blatantly used his position to force the businesses to give bribes, or the permissions to get the repatriation flights off the ground would be made much harder to get.

While agreeing that the death sentence is completely commensurating to the wrongdoing, judges said it is not necessary to 'completely remove defendant Phạm Trung Kiên' from society, and another form of punishment would suffice.

Kiên was accused of receiving a total of VNĐ42.6 billion (nearly US$1.8 million) in bribes, but he had already repaid about VNĐ42.2 billion as redress, and the defendant has shown remorse and honesty during the trial, the judges said, reiterating the 'humanitarian policy' of encouraging people involved in corruption to repay their ill-gotten money.

Also convicted of taking bribes, two former foreign ministry officials - Tô Anh Dũng, former deputy foreign minister, and Nguyễn Thị Hương Lan, former head of the consular department of the ministry - received harsher sentences compared to what the Procuracy sought as the judge panels deemed they have received large sum of bribery, causing public uproar and undermining public trust.

Dũng was sentenced to 16 years in jail (against the recommendation of 12-13 years), while Hương Lan received a life sentence (against the recommendation of 18-19 years in prison).

Also convicted of taking bribes, Nguyễn Quang Linh, former assistant to the former Deputy Prime Minister Phạm Bình Minh, got seven years imprisonment; Chử Xuân Dũng, former deputy chairman of Hà Nội People's Committee, received three years; Trần Văn Tân, former deputy chairman of Quảng Nam Province People's Committee, received six years. Trần Văn Dự, former deputy head of the immigration department (Ministry of Public Security), was handed seven years imprisonment; Vũ Anh Tuấn, former deputy head of the advisory faculty of the immigration department, got life sentence.

Twenty one defendants will need to pay VNĐ100 million ($4,220) each in penalties to the State coffers.

Four former officials at the Vietnamese Embassy in Malaysia convicted of abusing positions and power while discharging duties were handed 18 months to four years in prison (Trần Việt Thái, former Vietnamese ambassador to Malaysia, got four years, the highest sentence).

Each of them will also need to pay VNĐ50 million each in penalties to the State coffers.

Hoàng Văn Hưng, former investigator under the Ministry of Public Security, was handed a life sentence for frauds and misappropriation of assets.

Throughout the trial, Hưng had proclaimed his innocence and denied the charges from the procuracy that he had misled some of the defendants who were investigated for the role in the bribery case to believe he could help them avoid harsh sentences.

The judge panel criticised Hưng for not being honest despite ample evidence proving his crime, and decided to punish him harder than what the Procuracy initially recommended (19-20 years in prison) to sufficiently deter, educate, and prevent criminal offenses.

The businesses' executives convicted of giving bribes were sentenced with 15 months to 11 years in prison, most lighter than the recommendations from the Procuracy.

Four defendants charged with bribery brokerage received between 15 months to five years in prison, with the highest sentence against Nguyễn Anh Tuấn, deputy head of Hà Nội Police Department.

This is one of the biggest high-profile corruption cases that went on trial, with 54 defendants, 105 lawyers, 46 with related rights and obligations, and 33 witnesses.

From early 2020 to mid-2021, 372 combo flights were organised. The total number of passengers on 372 combo flights was more than 93,000 people.

In order to recoup the "lubricating" bribery money when organising these flights, a group of 20 businesses with more than 100 legal entities had to raise ticket prices, fabricating more costs to charge up against people abroad wishing to get tickets home.

Twenty three business executives were found to have given bribes 400 times, with total money worth VNĐ226 billion, while officials received some VNĐ165 billion in bribery. — VNS