Ex deputy minister tearfully asks for leniency at Covid flight bribery trial

By Pham Du, Thanh Lam   July 22, 2023 | 12:02 am PT
Ex deputy minister tearfully asks for leniency at Covid flight bribery trial
Former deputy foreign minister To Anh Dung (R) is escorted to trial in Hanoi, July 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
Former deputy foreign minister To Anh Dung expressed remorse, sobbed, and asked a Hanoi court for “maximum” leniency at his Covid-19 repatriation flight bribery trial Friday.

On the 11th day of the trial the Hanoi People's Court allowed the 54 defendants charged with taking and giving bribes to operate repatriation flights to say their last words before deliberating.

Dung, 59, spent 10 minutes telling how he has never stopped "striving for the country," especially while in the diplomatic service.

He had been in many positions throughout his career and never intended to abuse his authority for profits, he claimed.

"Under the pressure of the pandemic, I was assigned as a member of the National Steering Committee on Covid-19 prevention and had worked hard in all fields to combat the pandemic both at home and abroad, especially in vaccine diplomacy and citizen protection, despite the terrible circumstances then."

He then seemed to break into tears and asked for "maximum leniency" and promised that he never caused difficulties to businesses operating the flights, discussed bribery or demanded bribes.

Previously in court he had repeatedly claimed to have taken bribes "out of respect" for business representatives who came to "thank him" after every successful flight.

Prosecutors have recommended 12-13 years' imprisonment for him for accepting bribes from 13 businesses worth VND21.5 billion (US$908,853), the fourth highest among the 21 defendants charged with taking bribes.

In 2020 and 2021 the government organized flights to bring back Vietnamese citizens stranded abroad during the pandemic.

Businesses that wanted to operate the flights had to receive approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs following an appraisal by several other ministries.

Over 1,000 flights brought back over 200,000 people from 62 countries and territories.

Public security ministry officials face charges of helping businesses evade the law.

Prosecutors said 21 of the 54 accused, who used to work for the government, had misused their authority to took bribes amounting to VND165 billion ($7 million). Of the former officials on trial, 13 used to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs until their sacking.

Four people at the Vietnamese embassy in Malaysia have been found guilty of taking bribes of VND10 billion.

Former head of the ministry' Consular Department, Nguyen Thi Huong Lan, 49, said she had only met the businesspeople because she respected the fact that they had been introduced by the ministry's leaders.

She said many people wanted to meet her to thank her personally, and she initially refused them all. But then they managed to convince her to meet and she "accepted their gifts."

The prosecution has charged her with taking VND25 billion, the third biggest amount, from 32 people, and recommended a jail term of 18-19 years in prison.

Prosecutors have recommended the death sentence for Pham Trung Kien, 42, former secretary to a deputy minister of health, for receiving the most bribes, VND42.6 billion.

He burst into tears upon starting to speak, saying the sentence was "very cruel" and he did not want to die "at such a young age."

He has returned VND23 billion to the government and his lawyer said Kien's sister has offered to pay the remaining VND20 billion in the next one or two days.

The trial is likely to last a month.

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