On January 11, 2022, the Hanoi People’s Court held a trial for Mai Phan Loi, a former journalist and founder of a nonprofit organization, over “tax evasion” charges. The court sentenced the former journalist to a total of 48 months in jail on the same day. He was also ordered to reimburse the tax evasion money, state media reported.
According to The 88 Project, Mai Phan Loi, 50-years-old, is a former editor-in-chief of Phap Luat, a prominent state-run magazine focused on legal issues. In 2016, he was one of the representatives of the Vietnamese civil organization allowed to meet then-President Barack Obama in Hanoi. Loi was officially arrested in July and consequently charged with “committing tax evasion” under Article 200 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
He was also the founder and director of the Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC), a nonprofit organization that has a communication channel called GTV, which produces education shows for the public on various communication skills and techniques.
The indictment claims that Mai Phan Loi “directly ordered his subordinates not to declare and pay tax” and that he subsequently “benefited from the entire amount of tax evasion.” State media also quoted the investigation agency’s conclusion that Loi and his crime partner, Dang Dinh Bach, had evaded and benefited in nearly 2 billion dong ($88,000) from financial donations worth more than 19 billion dong that his organization had received.
Loi and Bach are both executive board members of VNGO-EVFTA Network, a group of seven community service organizations (CSOs) established last November to satisfy the formation of the Domestic Advisory Group (DAG), a civil society component of the EU-VN Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), the 88 Project reports.
DAGs allow independent observers such as CSOs to monitor the implementation of the EVFTA, especially in areas such as workers’ rights, land rights, and the environment, writes the 88 Project. The imprisonment of Mai Phan Loi is widely seen as an effort by Hanoi to prevent the establishment of this group. In reality, Vietnam has no independent non-profit organizations (NGOs) while all organizations operating locally must be associated with the Communist Party-controlled Fatherland Front.
The Vietnamese authorities often use “tax evasion” charges to stifle critical and influential voices when they do not have strong evidence to prosecute using “anti-state” allegations. The case of attorney Le Quoc Quan in 2013 is an example of this suppression strategy.
Update: We made a mistake in our first publication of this article. Loi’s crime partner, allegedly convicted under the same trial and received 30 months in jail, is Bach Hung Duong, not Dang Dinh Bach. We apologize for this mistake.