Vietnam Briefing Dec. 26, 2022: Civil Society Leader Hoang Ngoc Giao Arrested on “Tax Evasion” Charges

The Vietnam Briefing, released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.

Vietnam Briefing Dec. 26, 2022: Civil Society Leader Hoang Ngoc Giao Arrested on “Tax Evasion” Charges
Vietnamese legal expert Hoang Ngoc Giao (left) was the latest civil society leader to be arrested on “tax evasion” charges; Le Tung Van (corner right), head monk of the Buddhist monastery Tinh That Bong Lai, requested his imprisonment be suspended due to his weakening health. Photo: Tuoi Tre/ Bac Binh, Thanh Nien Online.

NGO leader Hoang Ngoc Giao arrested on “tax evasion” charges

  • On December 20, the investigation agency of the Hanoi Police Department officially indicted Hoang Ngoc Giao, a Vietnamese NGO leader and a legal expert, on charges of “committing tax evasion” under Article 200 of the Penal Code, State media reported. But earlier, three anonymous sources told RFA Vietnamese that Giao was arrested on December 16 for “providing classified information to foreign entities.” The Hanoi People’s Procuracy reportedly approved the arrest of Giao.
  • Hoang Ngoc Giao is also the director of the Institute for Policies on Law and Development (PLD), a locally registered NGO that carries out research on Vietnam’s development policy. The organization remains under the management of the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology (VUSTA), a government-controlled agency. The investigation agency of the Hanoi Police Department has not provided preliminary investigation results regarding Giao’s alleged “tax evasion.”
  • The NGO leader is also an advisor who regularly assists the government in improving the country’s legal framework. Last month, Giao chaired a workshop proposing amendments to Vietnam’s Land Law at the Government Guest House in Hanoi. In early 2020, he demanded an independent investigation into the police raid of Dong Tam Village, a land conflict hotspot. Last October, Giao was elected chairman of the Vietnam - China International Trade Arbitration Center (VCITAC).
  • The director of PLD is the latest NGO leader indicted on “tax evasion” charges. Previously, four directors from different Vietnamese nonprofit organizations were charged and imprisoned on similar charges. They include the prominent environmental activist Nguy Thi Khanh, who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018 for her anti-coal advocacy. Convicted tax evaders face up to seven years of imprisonment in Vietnam.

Hanoi Police finish investigation into “anti-State activities” of activist Truong Van Dung

  • According to a Facebook update from the Vietnamese blogger and activist Truong Van Dung family, the Hanoi Security Investigation Agency finished investigating his case on December 13, nearly seven months after his arrest.
  • Dung, 64, was arrested on May 21 for “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s former 1999 Penal Code. He frequently published content on his personal Facebook account, nicknamed Dung Truong, on multiple issues, ranging from the suppression of human rights in Vietnam and maritime sovereignty issues between Hanoi and Beijing.
  • The activist’s family was not allowed to visit or send him medicine while he was being investigated. Dung is aged and has many underlying medical conditions. After bringing his health issues to the investigation agency, his family was told by the investigator of his case that the detention center has medical staff so they can “rest assured.”
  • Although the investigation has been completed, his family is still not allowed to see him. Only Dung’s lawyer can access him and his case file. According to the lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, the trial will possibly be scheduled after the 2023 Lunar New Year, which begins in January next year.

Central Inspection Committee proposes discipline for Vietnam’s foreign minister and diplomats regarding the repatriation flight scandal

  • After its 24th meeting session on December 20 and 21, Vietnam’s Central Inspection Committee suggested the Politburo reprimand Minister of Foreign Affairs Bui Thanh Son following his misconduct in organizing repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens stranded abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • According to the announcement, the inspection committee found that the Party Civil Committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which Minister Son is a committee member, “had violated the principles of democratic centralism and working regulations,” while also “lacking responsibility and leadership” in organizing rescue flights to bring Vietnamese citizens home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Vietnam’s COVID-19 rescue flight program, initiated by the government in late 2020, was tainted with corruption. Vietnamese diplomats and consuls overseas had cooperated with travel companies to overcharge Vietnamese ticket buyers applying for such flights. Flight operators were reported to have profited by up to two billion dong (US$86,100) from each of these flights, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
  • As a result, a considerable number of Vietnamese diplomats and officials have either been punished or reprimanded for their involvement in corruption.
  • Nguyen Hong Ha, consul general of Vietnam in Osaka, Japan; Ly Tien Hung, the former officer of the Vietnamese Embassy in Russia; Nguyen Le Ngoc Anh, an officer of the Vietnamese Embassy in Malaysia; and Vu Ngoc Minh, the former officer of the Vietnamese Embassy in Angola were all reportedly expelled from the Party, according to VnExpress.
  • Meanwhile, Tran Viet Thai, the Vietnamese ambassador to Malaysia, was dismissed from all positions in the Party for the 2020-2025 term. Nguyen Hoang Linh, an officer at the Vietnamese Embassy in Malaysia, was reprimanded.

Freedom of religion in Vietnam: What happened last week?

  • Le Tung Van, head monk of Tinh That Bong Lai, requests suspension of imprisonment due to his weakening health.

Vietnam’s state media reported on December 19 that the Long An Provincial Court had received a petition from Le Tung Van, head monk of the independent Buddhist monastery Tinh That Bong Lai, requesting the court suspend his prison sentence due to his poor health. Previously, on December 16, the chief justice of the People’s Court of Duc Hoa District, Tran Thi Kim Thanh, approved the decision to carry out Van’s penal punishment officially.

Le Tung Van was sentenced to five-year imprisonment on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms.” Other monks and the temple’s landowner received sentences ranging from three to four years. On November 3, the Long An Provincial Appellate Court rejected the Buddhist monastery’s appeal, upholding the earlier sentences.

Van, 90, wrote in his petition that he suffers from multiple illnesses, including hypertension, diabetes, coronary artery disease, chronic anaemia, and stomach ulcers. “For many years, I could only lie in a hammock,” he wrote. “I have to rely on temple members to take care of me. Therefore, I'm not healthy enough to go to prison.”

  • Da Nang authorities disperse a Christian sect from operating

RFA reported that police in Ngu Hanh Son District, Da Nang, dispersed a group of 16 members of the “Church of God,” a local Christian sect, as they were gathering for the sect’s worshipping ceremony on December 15. The sect members were later ordered not to join and preach this religion.

It was reported that a group of religious practitioners gathered at a house in Hoa Hai Ward, Ngu Hanh Son District, on December 3 to listen to doctrines and watch videos about the “Church of God.” The police raided the house and forced the members to stop their religious activities and not repeat them. The authorities said they had confiscated a laptop, eight Bibles, three notebooks and other items prepared for the meeting.

According to the Da Nang authorities, organising or calling others to join religious ceremonies held outside the worshipping places approved by local authorities is illegal. Vietnam has consistently branded all religious sects independently operating outside of the government’s control as “false religions.”

The State has closely managed Vietnamese religious groups since the Communist takeover in 1975. Many were pressured to join the government-affiliated Vietnam Fatherland Front. On December 2, the U.S. State Department included Vietnam on its Special Watch List for “engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.”

Property and health scandals are Vietnam's highest-profile corruption cases in 2022


  • More than 900 State officials and employees were investigated by police for corruption and abuse of power in 2022, according to the Ministry of Public Security. The ministry outlined the number of corruption cases this year at the 78th National Public Security Conference in Hanoi on Monday, State media reported.
  • Deputy Minister of Public Security Senior Lt. Gen Tran Quoc To praised the police, saying they had successfully completed all tasks assigned by the Communist Party, which launched a crackdown on corrupt members in 2016.
  • According to the report, police also handled 5,300 cases of economic mismanagement, investigated more than 33,800 crimes related to social unrest, and dismantled 590 organized crime gangs. The report did not mention the numerous claims on social networks that police officers had taken bribes, beaten people and tortured detainees.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Ukraine might be Vladimir Putin's Vietnam

United Press International/ Harlan Ullman, Arnaud de Borchgrave/ December 21

“The Vietnam War was regarded by the Kennedy-Johnson administration as a vital national interest to prevent what was popularly viewed in America as the Sino-Soviet, godless monolithic threat of global communism that had to be stopped. South Vietnam became the battleground for nearly a decade and a half to halt that advance. Some 58,000 Americans and many more times that number of Vietnamese on both sides would die.

Putin's aims were to stop the expansion and influence of NATO east and prevent Ukraine from joining that alliance. Those were vital Russian interests that Putin concluded could only be achieved by using force. And while the Russian military was all volunteer, Putin would be forced to mobilize, i.e. draft, some 300,000 Russian recruits, much as the bulk of U.S. soldiers sent to fight in Vietnam were draftees.”

Russia, Vietnam slowly but surely parting strategic ways

Asia Times/ Richard Javad Heydarian/ Dec. 17

“Crucially, Moscow has also been the predominant source of modern weaponry for Hanoi, which has rapidly developed its defensive capabilities in light of maritime tensions in the South China Sea. Over the past two decades, Russia supplied Vietnam with modern submarines and fighter jets, with total sales amounting to more than US$10 billion.

But Vietnam is now clearly trying to expand its weaponry horizons to reduce its Russian reliance. Last year, Vietnam’s dependency ratio on Russian armaments fell below 60% for the first time in recent history, as the Southeast Asian nation expanded defense cooperation with new suppliers like South Korea.”

Vietnam putting market forces above worker rights

Asia Times/ Angie Ngoc Tran/ Dec. 17

“But over the years, the labor contingent has been routinely outvoted by state and business interests whose combined power has been increasing at the bargaining table.

This erosion of workers’ legal protections is enabled by the 2019 Labor Code, gutting the regulation that had included these allowances. These changes have allowed market logic to rule,  with the fact that managers almost always win in one-to-one direct negotiation with labor. This also undermines the primary function of unions to represent workers in negotiations with management.”

How Vietnam Can Balance Against China, on Land and at Sea

The Diplomat/ Khang Vu/ Dec. 16

“A country has two main ways to balance against a threat: internal balancing via domestic arms production and external balancing via military alliances. Vietnam’s non-aligned foreign policy means that it has picked the first option while reserving the second option for the future. But while it is tempting to suggest that Hanoi’s picking of the first option is due to its own agency, ignoring the geographical source of that decision is detrimental to understanding the systemic factors that have driven Vietnam’s grand strategy since the country’s founding in 1945. Vietnam’s geography is deeply hostile to it nurturing an alliance relationship with any external great power other than China, and it is geography that has pushed Vietnam to adopt the option of internal balancing.”

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