Ex-minister returns bribe taken in TV firm acquisition case

By Bao Ha   December 27, 2019 | 05:19 am PT
Ex-minister returns bribe taken in TV firm acquisition case
Former Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Bac Son appears at Hanoi People's Court, December 24, 2019. Photo by Vietnam News Agency.
The family of a former information minister involved in a notorious TV firm acquisition case has returned VND66 billion ($3 million) in bribes to the state budget.

The return of a second tranche of money (VND45 billion or $2 million) by the family of Nguyen Bac Son, former Minister of Information and Communications, happened one day ahead of the verdict that the court is set to pronounce Saturday. They had handed over VND21 billion, the first tranche, on Monday. 

Son's lawyer Vu Tien Vinh said this action could help mitigate the sentence. 

The Supreme People's Procuracy of Vietnam, the nation's premier prosecuting agency, last Friday recommended the death penalty for Son, 66, for "violating regulations on the management and use of public capital that led to serious consequences" and "taking bribes."

Son is accused of receiving about $3 million in bribes to push for the acquisition of private pay TV firm Audio Visual Global (AVG) by state-owned telecom giant MobiFone back in 2015.

But returning part of the bribe cannot guarantee that he can escape a death sentence, because the panel of judges will look at many aspects of his violations before making the final decision.

Son is standing trial along with another ex information minister, Truong Minh Tuan, and 14 other defendants, including former executives of MobiFone and AVG.

The ex-ministers are being tried for violations in the scandalous multimillion dollar TV firm acquisition case said to have caused nearly VND6.6 trillion ($284.4 million) in losses to the state budget.

Prosecutors have recommended a jail term of 14-16 years for ex minister Tuan.

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 Ministry of Information and Communications, 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.

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 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 has been scheduled to close on Saturday.

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