The Hanoi People’s Court sentenced 54 government officials and business people on Friday for charges related to bribery, as reported by the state-run Vietnam Plus. Former government officials, diplomats, and business owners were found guilty of soliciting, offering, and being complicit in the taking of bribes, along with fraud and abuse of power for the operation of repatriation flights during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 18-day trial began on July 11, following the arrest of former officials on charges of soliciting bribes. Those involved included the former Deputy Foreign Minister, To Anh Dung, sentenced to 16 years in prison, former head of the Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nguyen Thi Huong Lan, sentenced to life imprisonment, and former Secretary to the Deputy Minister of Health, Pham Trung Kien, also sentenced to life imprisonment. The bribes received by government officers totaled $7.4 million, with Kien receiving over 250 bribes between 2020-2021. Many officials avoided the death penalty recommended by prosecutors.
Businesses colluded with government officials, offering bribes to get approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to operate flights to repatriate Vietnamese citizens stuck abroad when commercial flights were rendered inoperable. This resulted in inflated prices of tickets on these flights, with people having to pay millions of Vietnamese dong. The court, however, held that they could not consider the question of compensation as the 2015 Penal Code of Vietnam does not envisage ‘victims’ of bribery.
This decision of the court follows a crackdown on corruption. Anti-graft campaigns led to the resignation of President Nguyen Xuan Phuc in January, following the dismissal of two deputy prime ministers. In June, various senior officials were arrested for bribery relating to inflated prices of COVID-19 testing kits.