Deputy foreign minister received bribes 'out of respect'

By Pham Du, Thanh Lam   July 12, 2023 | 07:00 am PT
Deputy foreign minister received bribes 'out of respect'
Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung (C) leaves the Hanoi People's Court, July 11, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du
Former deputy foreign minister To Anh Dung said it was "out of respect" that he received 37 bribes worth a total of VND21.5 billion ($908,000) in organizing Covid repatriation flights.

Dung, 59, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, was the first one to be questioned on Wednesday at the Hanoi People's Court, the second day of a trial involving bribery related to the organization of Covid-19 repatriation flights. Besides Dung, seven other former officials at the foreign ministry are also being charged with receiving bribes.

Dung said that during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many Vietnamese abroad wanted to return to Vietnam, and many businesses wanted to organize flights to repatriate them. But there were several issues regarding procedures to do so at the time, he said, adding that he agreed to meet with business representatives at his office for flight approvals on the basis of "listening to the businesses’ difficulties."

Dung said he had no intention to ask for anything or make things harder for any business when it came to flight approvals.

He said that following a successful flight, business representatives would thank him, and he would meet them again and receive gifts "out of respect," not because he was asking for them.

"I was not aware that what I did was wrong," he said.

Similar to Dung, seven other former officials of the foreign ministry also said they had no intention of asking for gifts and making things difficult, and that they only regarded the bribes as "thank you gifts." They said they only realized what they did was wrong after they were arrested.

Do Hoang Tung, former deputy head of the Consular Department, said business representatives contacted him constantly and he provided them instructions, and as such, receiving thanks was appropriate.

Regarding accusations that he received 38 bribes worth over VND12 billion, Tung said he "momentarily lost control of himself."

Prosecutors said the accused from the foreign ministry, which was in charge of citizen protection measures and devising plans to repatriate citizens, had received a total of over VND71 billion in bribes, the most out of all ministries and localities involved in the scandal.

Luu Tuan Dung, former deputy head of the citizen protection department, said that after he received bribes worth $22,529 from nine businesses, he tried to return the money to them but failed.

Former Vietnamese ambassador to Japan Vu Hong Nam said he had tried to contact businesses to return the bribes, but he "did not try hard enough." Nam has been accused of receiving VND1.8 billion worth of bribes.

Nguyen Hong Ha, head of the Vietnam Consulate in Osaka, Japan, said he received calls from vice director of the Bluesky company Nguyen Thi Thanh Hang, one of the accused, in which Hang sought approval from him to organize repatriation flights. Following the successful flights, Hang tried to visit him to deliver her thanks, but he refused to meet her.

"Hang still transferred me VND1.8 billion," Ha said, adding that he returned her VND1.4 billion as he "did not feel ok."

Former Vietnamese ambassador in Angola Vu Ngoc Minh said he also received "thank you money" after successful flights, and simply thought of them as gifts of appreciation. He also denied prosecutors’ accusations that he pestered businesses for VND3 million for each passenger on a repatriation flights.

In April 2020, 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 after evaluation by several other ministries.

In 2020 and 2021, over 1,000 flights brought back over 200,000 people home from 62 countries and territories.

The foreign ministry recommended that the government should approve 772 flights.

To "smoothen the process," 20 businesses and over 100 other legal entities hiked ticket prices.

Police said 21 officials pocketed VND170 billion ($7.18 million) in bribes from over 100 firms to organize repatriation flights during the Covid-19 pandemic.

54 people, charged with giving and receiving bribes, and fraud, now stand trial in the case, which is expected to last for a month.

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