Foul play? Journalist arrested, investigated for blackmailing government official in northern Vietnam

By Ba Do   June 28, 2017 | 10:10 pm GMT+7
Foul play? Journalist arrested, investigated for blackmailing government official in northern Vietnam
Le Duy Phong (R) was arrested last Thursday, when the police said they caught him receiving VND50 million from a local businessman in Yen Bai Province. He is also accused of extracting VND200 million ($8,800) from a local senior official. Photo courtesy of Cong An Nhan Dan (People's Police) newspaper.

When top officials build lavish villa complexes, questions are going to be asked.

Police in the northern province of Yen Bai have arrested a journalist for allegedly extorting money from a businessman and also accused him of extracting bribery from a local official.

Le Duy Phong, 32, from Giao Duc Vietnam (Vietnam Education) online newspaper, allegedly met Vu Xuan Sang, director of Yen Bai's Department of Planning and Investment, on June 16, Lieutenant General Do Kim Tuyen, deputy director general of the General Police Directorate, said at a press conference Wednesday.

During the private meeting, Phong listed some of the department's land violations and demanded VND200 million ($8,800) in return for his silence, Tuyen said. Sang complied with Phong's demand and paid him on the same day.

But it was not until last Thursday that the police arrested Phong, saying they caught him receiving VND50 million from a local businessman at a restaurant in Yen Bai.

Phong is being investigated for abusing his power to extract bribery, Tuyen said. The journalist has confessed to his wrongdoings, Tuyen said. He added that police are investigating the motive behind the deal between Phong and Sang, the Yen Bai official, and that Sang would be punished accordingly if he's found guilty of offering bribery.

Phong, a licensed journalist, has been working at the newspaper since 2014 and has never been accused of any wrongdoing in that time, according to Nguyen Tien Binh, the newspaper's editor-in-chief. 

Prior to his arrest, Phong was investigating and reporting on land management in Yen Bai Province. “The two most important articles in his series have already been published,” Binh said.

Phong's arrest has left members of the public questioning whether he has been set up by police. His newspaper has also asked the Ministry of Public Security to take over the case from Yen Bai's Police Department, according to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Following allegations made by Phong in his reports, the Government Inspectorate has started looking into land and property owned by Pham Sy Quy, director of Yen Bai's Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

Quy has been under investigation by the province since June 9 after media reports raised questions over his complex of a hillside villa, stilt houses, pond and garden that cover more than 1.3 hectares (3.2 acres). The land should have been designated for agricultural use, the reports say, which means residential use is restricted.

The Ministry of Public Security has also received information regarding a villa complex belonging to Dang Tran Chieu, director of Yen Bai's Police Department, through newspapers, according to Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Luu, the ministry's chief inspector.