Death sought for ex-minister for taking bribes in TV firm acquisition case

By Pham Du, Bao Ha   December 20, 2019 | 10:55 am GMT+7
Death sought for ex-minister for taking bribes in TV firm acquisition case
Former Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Bac Son appears at Hanoi People's Court, December 16, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

In a rare move, Vietnamese prosecutors are seeking the death sentence for a former information minister in a notorious TV firm acquisition case.

The Supreme People's Procuracy of Vietnam, the nation's premier prosecuting agency, on Friday recommended the death penalty for Nguyen Bac Son, former Minister of Information and Communications.

Son is accused of receiving $3 million bribes to push for the acquisition of private pay TV firm Audio Visual Global by state-owed telecom giant MobiFone.

It also recommended a jail term of 14-16 years for former information minister Truong Minh Tuan, another main accused in the case.

The ex-ministers are being tried for violations in a scandalous multimillion dollar TV firm acquisition said to have caused nearly VND6.6 trillion ($284.4 million) in losses to the state budget. However, these losses have subsequently been made up by defendants returning the misappropriated sums.

Both Son, 66, and Tuan, 59, are charged with "violating regulations on the management and use of public capital that led to serious consequences" and "taking bribes." They were arrested in February and expelled from the Communist Party in October.

Prosecutors asked for these sentences at the ongoing trial that opened Monday in Hanoi against 14 defendants, including former executives of MobiFone and AVG.

Son, information minister from 2011 to 2016, was retroactively dismissed from the position in October last year. Tuan, information minister from 2016, was suspended from his position in July last year and dismissed in a secret ballot by the legislative National Assembly three months later.

The indictment states that in 2015, telecom giant MobiFone, under the information ministry, wanted to invest in the pay TV sector. Son promoted the acquisition of AVG and pushed for the deal to be done before his tenure was up.

After five rounds of negotiations, under Son's directions, AVG and MobiFone reached an agreement on October 2, 2015 for the latter to acquire a 95 percent stake in the former. Son and Tuan, the latter his deputy minister then, decided not to release information on the deal and suggested that this information be listed as a state secret.

Investigators found that even though the price and the investment efficiency of the purchase had not been clarified by competent authorities, Son issued a directive on December 15, 2015, ordering that it was implemented immediately and completed before the end of the fiscal year 2015.

He subsequently instructed Tuan to sign a decision to approve the acquisition on December 21, 2015 without the prime minister’s approval, which is mandated for such investment decisions.

MobiFone thus acquired a 95 percent stake at AVG for nearly VND8.9 trillion ($382.6 million), many times higher than AVG's real value, delivering great benefits to the pay TV firm's then chairman Pham Nhat Vu and its shareholders.

Investigators found that in order for the acquisition deal to be approved in a way that benefits him, Vu gave bribes of $3 million to Son, $200,000 to Tuan, $2.5 million to MobiFone's former chairman Le Nam Tra and $500,000 to MobiFone's former general director Cao Duy Hai.

After discovering the violations, investigators assessed that Son, Tuan and several MobiFone leaders had directly caused losses of nearly VND6.6 trillion to the state.

In 2018, Vu voluntarily returned nearly VND8.8 trillion to MobiFone, which included the original payment of VND8.5 trillion as well as the lost interest payments and other expenses.

Prosecutors have determined that Vu was not chiefly responsible for the losses to MobiFone caused by Son and his accomplices, noting that he had proactively offset all the losses incurred by the state.

The indictment states that nearly VND100 billion has been recovered in relation to the giving and taking of bribes in the case.

A jail term of three to four years has been sought for Vu for the charge of bribery.

The trial is scheduled to continue through weekends until December 31.

Vietnam’s corruption crackdown has intensified since it was launched in 2017, and a number of high-ranking officials, top military officers and businesspeople, have been put into prison over the past couple years.

However, seeking the death penalty for corruption has been a rare event. So far, the sentence has only been handed down to one convict, the former chairman of state fuel giant PetroVietnam, Nguyen Xuan Son, for his role in PetroVietnam's purchase of a 20 percent stake in OceanBank, which allowed him to siphon VND49 billion ($2.1 million) in government money.

Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, who has been spearheading the country’s anti-corruption campaign, has repeatedly said that the corruption fight would keep up momentum and continue moving forward, sparing no one.

 
 
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