|Former minister of information and communications Nguyễn Bắc Son and other defendants in court. — VNA/VNS Photo Văn Điệp
HÀ NỘI — Former minister of information and communications Nguyễn Bắc Son was sentenced to life imprisonment on Saturday morning in connection with the notorious AVG deal, a lighter punishment than the death penalty proposed for him previously.
The deal involved the State-owned communications group MobiFone’s scandalous purchase of a 95 per cent stake in Audio Visual Global JSC (AVG) for a hugely inflated price.
Of the 14 defendants on trial, the 66-year-old former minister was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of taking bribes worth US$3 million and 16 years in prison on charges of violating regulations on "the management and use of public capital, causing serious consequences". Son received his life sentence in summing up. The Hà Nội People’s Court said that his family had returned the $3 million to the State on Friday so the proposed death penalty was not necessary.
Son’s deputy Trương Minh Tuấn, who went on to become minister after the scandal broke, was sentenced to 14 years in prison including eight years for taking bribes and six years for violating regulations on "the management and use of public capital, causing serious consequences".
Phạm Đình Trọng, former head of the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC)’s Department of Enterprise Management, was sentenced to five years in prison.
Lê Nam Trà, former chairman of MobiFone's board of directors, was sentenced to 23 years in prison including 16 years for taking bribes and seven years for violating management regulations.
Cao Duy Hải, former general director of MobiFone, was sentenced to 14 years in prison including 10 years for taking bribes and four years for violating the management regulations.
Other defendants found guilty of violating regulations on the management and use of public investment capital, causing serious consequences, included Võ Văn Mạnh, director of AMAX Valuation and Investment Consultancy Company (three and a half years), and his employee Hoàng Duy Quang (three years). Phan Thị Hoa Mai, a MobiFone board member, and deputy general directors of MobiFone Phạm Thị Phương Anh, Hồ Tuấn, Nguyễn Bảo Long and Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng were sentenced to two and a half years each. Nguyễn Đăng Nguyên, another deputy general director of MobiFone, was sentenced to two years.
Phạm Nhật Vũ, former AVG chairman, was sentenced to three years for giving bribes.
However, the court did decide to release property owned by Son and Tuấn that had been seized as collateral during the investigation.
Besides Son’s family returning $3 million, other defendants were also ordered to return misappropriated funds, including Tuấn with VNĐ4.4 billion ($192,000), MobiFone’s Trà (VNĐ55.5 billion), MobiFone’s Hải (VNĐ11.1 billion), the AMAX Valuation and Investment Consultancy Company (VNĐ340 million), and AMAX’s Quang (VNĐ54 million). All the refunds have already been paid.
The court said that the case was particularly serious, and the defendants from the Ministry of Information and Communications and MobiFone had infringed upon the State management of public investment and negatively affected people's trust in State public investment. The defendants caused damages of more than VNĐ6.6 trillion, so strict sentences were necessary, the court said.
According to the indictment, in 2015, the MIC-run MobiFone bought 95 per cent of AVG for VNĐ8.9 trillion (US$382.7 million), many times higher than the real value of the struggling AVG at that time.
During the purchasing process, Son, Tuấn, Trà and Hải reportedly made use of their positions to speed up the deal without the approval of the Prime Minister, despite their knowledge of the poor financial and business situation at AVG. The deal caused losses of more than VNĐ6.47 trillion ($278.21 million) to the State.
Son also allegedly received $3 million from AVG chairman Vũ, while Trà, Hải and Tuấn got $2.5 million, $500,000 and $200,000, respectively, to accelerate the transaction. — VNS