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Life sentence upheld for former information minister for key role in AVG-MobiFone deal

Update: April, 27/2020 - 19:33
Former Minister of Information and Communications Nguyễn Bắc Son during the appeal trial on Monday in Hà Nội. — VNA/VNS Photo Doãn Tấn

HÀ NỘI — The Superior People's Court in Hà Nội on Monday upheld the life sentence for former Minister of Information of Communications Nguyễn Bắc Son in the appeal trial for his “decision-making” role in the illegal deal between private TV firm AVG and the State-owned telecom group MobiFone.

The court rejected Son’s appeal, ending a three-day trial when eleven out of 14 defendants asked for clemency and reduced sentences, after their sentences were handed out late last year in the first-instance trial.

Former minister Son was originally sentenced to 16 years for serious mismanagement of public investment capital and life imprisonment for taking bribes, which combined into a life sentence.

He was initially sentenced to death, which was reduced to life imprisonment.

The court had already taken into account his contributions to the nation during the war and many achievements recognised by the State for his work.

Plus they took into consideration the fact he had repaid about VNĐ66 billion (US$2.8 million) to “remedy the damages” caused by his actions.

This saw the death penalty reduced to life, but Son still thought this was too heavy for his wrongdoings.

The panel of judges on Monday said the defendants’ “particularly serious wrongdoing” has caused tremendous losses to the State coffer, delayed the equitisation progress of MobiFone, and undermined public confidence in the Party and the State.

Some defendants have received an “unprecedented” amount of bribes, and stringent sentences must be passed to make an example out of their abuse of power, the judge panel continued.

The appear verdict said Sơn had “direct involvement” in the decisions regarding Mobifone’s purchase of 95 per cent of the private audio-visual firm AVG back in 2015 – including setting up and assessing the plan, approving the memorandum for the deal and eventually accepting the price for the purchase at VNĐ8.9 trillion ($379 million), much higher than the actual value of the shares, read the verdict.

Son was deemed as the person holding the “highest authority” and the decision-maker in the AVG-MobiFone deal, it said, causing a loss of more than VNĐ6 trillion to the State coffers.

During the implementation of the plan, former minister Son has talked several times with Phạm Nhật Vũ, former chairman of the AVG Board of Directors, and received $3 million in bribes from Vũ after MobiFone completed the transactions to AVG.

The panel said the sentence handed down to Son was “deserved”.

The judges remarked that they found no evidence suggesting that Son did anything to “minimise the losses” and added that Son was not entirely forth-coming with the details during the investigation despite already admitting the crime, which means the arguments from Son’s lawyers for reduced sentences were groundless.

At the appeal, Son has conveyed “apologies” to the Party and State leaders and the people, for his actions that marred the reputation and confidence of the people towards the Party and State.

Lê Nam Trà, former chairman of MobiFone, however, was given a reduced sentenced on Monday as the court considered Trà to be under the influence and instructions from Son during the deal.

Trà's imprisonment was reduced from seven years to four for serious violations in State capital management, but the 16-year imprisonment for taking a bribe worth $2.5 million was upheld, bringing his total sentencing to 20 years.

Most other defendants were also given slightly reduced sentences.

For “violating regulations on the management and use of public investment capital, causing serious consequences”, former deputy general directors of MobiFone Hồ Tuấn, Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng, Phạm Thị Phương Anh and Nguyễn Bảo Long were given the sentence of 12-month imprisonment each. The initial penalty for them was 2 years and 6 months in prison.

Nguyễn Đăng Nguyên, another former deputy general director of MobiFone, received 12 months’ probation, compared to the initial prison sentence of two years.

Phan Thị Hoa Mai, former member of MobiFone’s member council, and Hoàng Duy Quang, an evaluation officer at AMAX, will be respectively sentenced to 12 months and 14 months in prison. The initial punishments for them were 2.5 years and three years in jail, respectively.

Also involved in the case, but Son’s successor, former minister Trương Minh Tuấn – together with Phạm Đình Trọng, head of the MoIC’s Department of Enterprise Management, and Phạm Nhật Vũ, – did not appeal.

Tuấn was sentenced to 14 years in prison in the first trial, eight years for receiving $200,000 in bribes, and another six for “violating regulations on the management and use of public investment capital, causing serious consequences”.

Trọng received a five-year term for “violating regulations on the management and use of public investment capital, causing serious consequences”, while Vũ would spend six years behind bars for giving bribe. — VNS

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