Vietnam Concludes Investigations into Viet A’s COVID-19 Test Kits, Former Ministers Prosecuted

Vietnam Concludes Investigations into Viet A’s COVID-19 Test Kits, Former Ministers Prosecuted

Family Meets With Death-Row Inmate Nguyen Van Chuong

The family of Vietnamese death-row inmate Nguyen Van Chuong, who in 2007 received a death sentence in a trial marred by violations of due legal process, met with him at a detention facility on Aug. 14, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported. According to Nguyen Thi Bich, Chuong’s mother, he appeared healthy but was in low spirits and cried several times during the one-hour conversation. Bich said Chuong told her he hadn’t received a notice about his execution date.

On Aug. 4, Chuong’s family received a notice from the Hai Phong People’s Court about the procedures to obtain his remains within three days of the announcement, implying that his sentence would be carried out soon. The court, however, didn’t give the death-row inmate and his family information about the exact date of his execution.

Chuong was convicted of robbery and the murder of a police officer in the Vietnamese port city of Hai Phong in 2007. Chuong’s strong alibi that he was in his hometown of Hai Duong at the time of the murder was ignored by the court. Another appellate court in 2008 upheld his death sentence.

After the news of Nguyen Van Chuong’s impending execution was released, influential critics on social media, as well as the United Nations Human Rights Office and numerous international organizations, petitioned the Vietnamese government to immediately halt the decision to executeChuong given the facts that he didn’t have a fair trial and was tortured during the investigation to make forced confessions. Until their meeting last week, Chuong’s family and the public in Vietnam have not learned anything about his condition since they received the court’s notice on Aug. 4.

Chuong’s mother told RFA that several security guards monitored the conversation between Chuong, his parents, his daughter, and other relatives at the Hai Phong detention facility. They spoke with him via telephone on the other side of a glass partition, Bich said.

“[Chuong] said he has sent petitions through his detention facility’s channel in vain because the detention facility didn’t allow him to send them out and had thrown the petitions into desk drawers,” she told RFA. RFA reporters tried to contact the temporary detention facility of the Hai Phong Police for a response to Bich’s allegations. However, they couldn’t reach the agency through a telephone number listed on the Internet.

On Aug. 17, Chuong’s family and other people concerned about his case held a small demonstration in front of the Central Civil Reception Office in Hanoi, explaining the predicament of his wrongful sentence and calling on the president of Vietnam, Vo Van Thuong, to acquit him. The demonstration photos were shared on the Facebook account of Nguyen Truong Chinh, Chuong’s father.

A Vietnamese Police Officer Arrested for Kidnapping A Boy and Demanding Ransom

Vietnam’s state media reported that Hanoi City Police on Aug. 14 arrested a man for allegedly kidnapping a seven-year-old boy and demanding 15 billion dong ($628,200) in ransom from his family. Nguyen Duc Trung, 31, the kidnapper, was later revealed to be a senior lieutenant of the Vinh Phuc Provincial Police Department.

The Hanoi Police investigation said that on the evening of Aug. 14, Trung, 31, drove a car to a residential compound in Long Bien District and approached a boy riding a bicycle there. Security camera footage showed that as soon as Trung approached the boy, he opened the car door to block his path, quickly shoved him into the car, and then drove away. Later, the former police lieutenant coerced the boy to give him his parents’ contact and used the unregistered phone numbers to demand a ransom from them.

After receiving the ransom demand, the abducted boy’s family contacted the police. Trung was arrested on Aug. 15 while hiding at an industrial park in Duy Tien District, Ha Nam Province, about 60 kilometers south of Hanoi. The Hanoi Police claimed they secretly tracked Trung down and followed him as he traveled between several provinces before arriving in Ha Nam. It was reported that the boy has safely returned to his family.

Before being arrested for his alleged kidnapping, Trung worked at the Traffic Police Department of Vinh Phuc Province. When arrested, Trung admitted to having kidnapped the boy but did not divulge any information about his occupation, saying that he “was unemployed,” according to the reports. During the investigation, Trung said he committed the crime because he “owed a lot of money.” On Aug. 14, he drove his car, which had fake license plates, around the Viet Hung residential area, in Long Bien District, in an attempt at theft. But after the effort to steal failed, he reportedly resorted to kidnapping the boy and demanding a ransom.

On Aug. 16, Maj. Gen. Nguyen Thanh Tung, deputy director of the Hanoi Police Department, told local news agency VTC News that the Criminal Police Department of Hanoi City Police had officially prosecuted Trung for the alleged kidnapping. The director of the Vinh Phuc Provincial Public Security Department also decided to discipline Trung by stripping him of the honorary People’s Public Security title.

Vietnamese Officials Implicated in Rescue Flights Scandal Appeal Their Sentences

On Aug. 17, the Hanoi People's Court received a total of 18 appeals of 54 government officials and business people convicted of different charges ranging from “bribery” to “committing fraud” for their involvement in arranging repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens stranded abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hanoi court on July 28 sentenced four people to life and others to punishments ranging from suspended sentences to 16 years of imprisonment.

All four people sentenced to life in the first-instance trial appealed their sentences. They included Hoang Van Hung, a former investigator at the Security Investigation Agency of the Ministry of Public Security. Hung was convicted of “committing fraud to appropriate assets” after allegedly accepting bribes from the directors of a tourism company that organized the COVID-19 flight to help them evade criminal prosecution. Hung repeatedly said that he was not guilty.

Tran Minh Tuan, director of Thai Hoa Construction Joint Stock Co., who received the first-instance sentence of 18 years, also claimed that he was innocent.

The other officials sentenced to life are Nguyen Thi Huong Lan, former head of the Consular Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Pham Trung Kien, former secretary of the deputy minister of health; and Vu Anh Tuan, former officer at the Immigration Department in Ministry of Public Security. These government officials appealed their sentences and asked for a reduction of their sentences.

The other 12 defendants who appealed for a more lenient punishment included Tran Van Tan, former vice chairman of Quang Nam Provincial People’s Committee. Tan received a six-year prison sentence for accepting bribes.

Former Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long Indicted For Taking Bribes

On Aug. 17, the Investigative Police Agency of the Ministry of Public Security issued the results of an investigation into Viet A Joint Stock Co., a medical firm, for allegedly “inflating the price” of COVID-19 test kits. The investigation agency also proposed prosecuting Vietnam’s former Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long on bribery charges.

According to the investigation’s conclusion, Nguyen Thanh Long received $2.25 million from Phan Quoc Viet, director of Viet A. The medical company was previously said to be a vital manufacturer and distributor of COVID-19 test kits through Vietnam’s Ministry of Health to its 63 provinces. The test kits supplied by Viet A were said to help accommodate the country’s robust testing campaign during the pandemic.

But it was later revealed that Viet A did not have the qualifications to manufacture the COVID-19 test kits. Still, it allegedly inflated the price of these medical supplies and sold them at an exorbitant price.

Long was previously charged with “abusing authoritative powers while performing official duty.” But the investigation agency later declared that he had taken bribes to manipulate the process of issuing registration numbers, negotiating prices, and checking the negotiated price of COVID-19 test kits supplied by Viet A. The misconduct of Long has “caused severe damage to state assets,” according to the investigation.

Chu Ngoc Anh, former science and technology minister, was charged with “violating regulations on management and using of state assets,” resulting in the loss of nearly 19 billion dong of the national budget. Anh was arrested along with Nguyen Thanh Long when he was the mayor of Hanoi. The police investigation also said that Anh received a bribe worth $200,000 from Phan Quoc Viet. Viet reportedly handed the cash to Anh in August 2020 when he was still the minister of science and technology.

Ho Chi Minh City Authorities Officially Prosecute Media Influencer Nguyen Phuong Hang for “Abusing Democratic Freedoms”

The Ho Chi Minh City People Procuracy on Aug. 18 officially indicted Nguyen Phuong Hang, a Vietnamese businesswoman and media influencer, along with her four alleged accomplices, on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

The prosecutors accused Hang and her accomplices of using social networks to infringe on the privacy and personal lives of many Vietnamese celebrities while insulting the reputation and honor of 10 individuals. Hang frequently hosted live streams on social media, where she accused several Vietnamese celebrities of appropriating financial donations from their fan bases to assist in the relief efforts for victims of natural disasters in Vietnam.

Previously, on May 31, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City returned the investigation documents to the People's Procuracy, requesting an additional investigation into the activity of Huynh Uy Dung, Hang’s husband, who also participated in many of her live streamings. The Ho Chi Minh City Police Department’s investigators later concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Dung.

Nguyen Thi Mai Nhi, an assistant of Hang, Le Thi Thu Ha, an employee of Dai Nam Joint Stock Co., and Huynh Cong Tan, head of the Communications Department of Dai Nam, were accused of assisting Hang in the alleged insulting and defaming of other individuals. Dang Anh Quan, a university lecturer, was also indicted for being an alleged accomplice of Hang. Previously, Quan participated in some of Nguyen Phuong Hang’s live streamings.

Youtuber Dua Leo Fined For “Publishing Video Containing False Information”

The police of District 10, Ho Chi Minh City, has fined Nguyen Phuc Gia Huy, a Vietnamese stand-up comedian popularly known by the stage name Dua Leo, for “publishing false information online,” state media reported on Aug. 18. Dua Leo was fined 7.5 million dong fine ($315) for his alleged violation.

More specifically, the police declared that a video clip posted on the YouTube channel Dua Leo contained “false information,” which allegedly violated Article 101 of Decree 15/2020/ND-CP on telecommunications and information technology regulations. The Ho Chi Minh authorities also ordered the comedian to remove the video and pay the fine. However, the authorities didn’t clearly say which video contained “false information” and what the content of that video was.

In 2021, Dua Leo filed a civil lawsuit against Nhan Dan newspaper, a prominent mouthpiece of the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party, for defaming and insulting him in its publications. On Jan. 8, 2021, a writer named Viet Quang wrote an article for Nhan Dan accusing Duo Leo of creating public content to “defy the [Vietnamese] government” and “incite hatred against the country.” Following the comedian’s lawsuits, the Party mouthpiece eventually took down the defamatory articles but has not yet apologized for the alleged defamation.

A relative of Gia Huy told RFA on the condition of anonymity that Dua Leo was detained by security forces at around 10 a.m. on Aug. 15 while eating alone. The security forces took him away and brought him to the local police station for questioning without presenting any documents. The source added that Dua Leo was beaten while being interrogated and was not released until 11 p.m. that same day. The Vietnamese Magazine cannot verify these allegations.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi Urges Vietnam To Uphold Shared Ideology

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi directly appealed to Vietnamese Deputy Minister Tran Luu Quang to uphold shared ideology with Beijing and prevent “interference” by external forces, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported. Yi made the statement on Aug. 16 at the China-South Asia Expo, which is considered one of Beijing’s latest efforts to strengthen ties with countries in the region amid rising tensions in the hotly disputed South China Sea.

Yi told Quang that Vietnam and China are neighbors with similar ideologies, and “the two sides should prepare for the next stage of high-level exchanges.”

“[We should] jointly safeguard the security of the regime and institutions and jointly uphold the ideals and beliefs of the [Communist] Party and its socialist directions,” the Chinese foreign ministry quoted Wang as saying during their talks in China’s southwestern city of Kunming. He added that at the same time, China would work closely with “ASEAN countries, including Vietnam […] to oppose provocative interference by extraterritorial forces and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and the region.”

According to the Chinese statement at the meeting, Quang reaffirmed China’s “unparalleled significance and special nature” to Vietnam, adding that bilateral ties had “always been a top priority” for Hanoi.

The high-level talks between Vietnamese and Chinese officials occurred after U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Aug. 8 that he would visit Vietnam “shortly” to elevate the diplomatic relationship between Washington and Hanoi. CNN reported that Biden’s announcement of the impending Vietnam visit was an example of his administration countering China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Journalism in Vietnam: Walking the Tightrope Between Communism and Capitalism

New Narratif/ Author: Hướng Thiện, Collage artist: E.M/ Aug. 16

“An independent journalist who has experience working in the state and private sector, Ngô Bá Nha, says in her 2016 book Sống tốt với nghề báo (Living Well with Journalism) that there is no private journalism in Vietnam. While one does not need to be a Communist Party member to work as a journalist in a state outlet, they have to be a member of the party and have a level of mastery of Marxist-Leninist political theory through political training classes at state agencies to get a promotion for a leadership position in state-affiliated media outlets. Therefore, most of those working in leadership positions are members of the Communist Party.

Financially speaking, some media outlets in Vietnam are partly independent. According to the Ministry of Information and Communications, there are currently three media forms: fully or partially funded by the State budget, partially funded by their supervising agencies and managing their own finances, and completely financially autonomous.”

Vietnam's Plan to Block Users Puts Internet Access at Risk

Nikkei Asia/ Lien Hoang/ Aug. 16

“The government has drafted rules to work with internet service providers (ISPs) to kick people offline if they share content deemed illegal, with implementation possible as early as this year. The move threatens to throttle web access further in a country where an estimated 1,000 websites, from those of the BBC to Freedom House, are already blocked.

Ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's planned visit, activists say Washington must push Vietnam to respect internet rights.

A country of 100 million, Vietnam does not have China's Great Firewall, a mix of laws and technologies that keep Chinese internet users largely cut off from the global web. But the proposed regulation would expand on Vietnam's current rules that require social media companies like TikTok and Facebook to block unfavorable posts.”

Will Putin Visit Vietnam After Biden? Odds Are Against It

Fulcrum/ Ian Storey/ Aug. 14

“Last week, U.S. President Joseph (“Joe”) Biden revealed that he would travel to Vietnam “soon”. Although he did not say exactly when, his trip to Hanoi is likely to take place in September in conjunction with the G20 Summit in New Delhi (September 9-10). According to press reports, he will skip the ASEAN summits in Jakarta (September 4-7).  

The Vietnamese leadership will welcome Biden’s visit as another indication of the importance that the U.S. places on strengthening its relationship with Vietnam.  

But if rumours in Hanoi are correct, Russian President Vladimir Putin has also expressed an interest in visiting Vietnam before the end of the year. On the one hand, visits by Biden and Putin would present Vietnam with an opportunity to show that when it comes to the major powers, it pursues a balanced foreign policy. On the other hand, as war continues to rage between Russia and Ukraine, Hanoi will have to consider the optics that a Putin visit would present to the rest of the world, especially the West.”

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