Woman loses appeal for defaming Vietnamese-American 'trash king'

By Hai Duyen   February 29, 2024 | 07:30 pm PT
The verdict mandating that a local woman must apologize and pay compensation for defaming the Da Phuoc Waste Management Company was upheld by the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court.

The court on Thursday upheld the original ruling that defendant Nguyen Hong Thu was guilty of "insulting and damaging the reputation" of the Vietnam Waste Solutions Company (VWS), which manages the city's largest landfill, Da Phuoc in Binh Chanh District.

The judges' panel dismissed the defendant's appeal and accepted the plaintiff's demands for compensation.

It required Thu to cease defamatory actions against David Duong, 66, a Vietnamese American dubbed the "king of trash," who legally represents VWS.

Duong's Da Phuoc landfill handles 7,000 tons of trash every day, or more than 70% of all trash in Vietnam's largest city. His business in the U.S., California Waste Solutions, has also won billion-dollar contracts with local authorities.

At the Thursday trial, the 48-year-old Thu was required to remove the "offensive" posts, and publicly apologize to Duong on her personal Facebook account, and on her "The truth about the stench in Phu My Hung" fanpage.

Additionally, she was ordered to compensate the plaintiff with over VND7 million (US$285) for evidence collection costs.

From 2016 to 2020, Thu used her personal Facebook account and the mentioned fanpage to publish numerous posts criticizing VWS and David Duong. The posts attracted many comments, interactions, and shares.

Those posts often contained negative language directed towards David, linking his image to VWS and attributing the source of bad odors in Phu My Hung, the high-end residential complex in southern HCMC's District 7, to the Da Phuoc landfill operated by his company, the court heard.

The court stated that determining whether the odor originated from the landfill falls under the jurisdiction of state agencies and is not under the purview of private citizens such as Thu.

The correct legal recourse for citizens is to petition such agencies, according to the court, but Thu instead took to using the social media platform to post "inappropriate" content that insulted the honor, dignity, and reputation of the plaintiff.

Her behavior was thus deemed a violation of the Cybersecurity Law and Civil Code.

The court also dismissed the defendant's claim that her Facebook was hacked and no longer exists, stating that the execution of the original judgment would proceed according to legal regulations.

A part of Da Phuoc landfill in HCMCs Binh Chanh District in 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

A part of Da Phuoc landfill in HCMC's Binh Chanh District in 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

According to a lawsuit filed by the VWS, Thu used her Facebook account to create the fanpage in 2016 to claim that the odors in the densely populated Phu My Hung residential area were caused by VWS.

VWS argued that her posts were distortive, false, and defamatory towards David Duong and VWS.

During the first trial in July last year by the Nha Be District People’s Court, the plaintiff withdrew part of their lawsuit that demanded Thu pay compensation of over VND28 million.

The court initially accepted part of the plaintiff's lawsuit demands at the previous trial, but Thu then appealed in its entirety.

At the hearing, the defendant's representative argued that Thu did not post any information related to VWS or David Duong and that she only wrote posts saying that the odor in Phu My Hung was responsibility of Da Phuoc landfill’s investor.

Thu denied using derogatory language against the company.

According to the defendant, the content posted on Facebook was accurate, based on reports from the Government Inspectorate, media agencies, and the results from evaluations by relevant state agencies dealing with the Da Phuoc landfill issues.

VWS was established in 2005 to design, construct and operate the Da Phuoc Integrated Waste Management Facility.

In 2020, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment in HCMC said the Da Phuoc landfill was reaching its capacity and would be closed in 2024.

Nearby residents in Binh Chanh District and District 7 have been complaining about stenches and foul odors emanating from the facility for years.

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