How briberies launched Vietnam's pandemic repatriation flights

By Pham Du   April 6, 2023 | 05:30 am PT
How briberies launched Vietnam's pandemic repatriation flights
Passengers on a Covid-19 repatriation flight from Europe. Photo by Vietnam Government Portal
Police said 21 officials pocketed VND170 billion (US$7.27 million) in bribes from over 100 firms to organize repatriation flights during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, when the Covid-19 situation was serious in China, Vietnam organized a flight to bring 30 citizens stuck in Wuhan City back home.

After that, the government allowed more rescue flights to bring back stranded citizens, with passengers paying for the airfare only. After touching down in Vietnam, they were sent to quarantine camps managed by the military where they stayed for free for two weeks.

But the military-run facilities were increasingly overloaded, prompting the government to approve a plan to simultaneously organize rescue flights and "combo flights," in which passengers who could afford to pay for both tickets and quarantine fees were allowed to stay at hotels or resorts approved by the Ministry of Health.

The organization of combo flights was assigned to five ministries: Foreign Affairs, Health, Transport, Public Security, National Defense, and the Government Office, as well as Vietnamese diplomatic missions abroad and the People's Committees of provinces and cities.

Enterprises wishing to organize a combo flight had to first apply to the People's Committee of the province or city where the repatriated citizens registered to stay while in quarantine.

When receiving the approval from local authorities, the companies would send the approved dossier to the Consular Department under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs so that the department could ask for opinions from the five ministries.

Once the five ministries agreed with the plan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would submit it to the government leadership through the Government Office for the final approval.

All businesses must complete those steps to organize a flight. In most cases, they were travel firms and companies that usually organize for people to work abroad.

From early 2020 to mid-2021, more than 1,000 repatriation flights were organized to bring home more than 200,000 citizens from 62 countries and territories. Among these, the foreign ministry sought approval to organize 772 flights, with 400 rescue flights and 372 combo flights.

However, according to the conclusion of the Investigation Security Agency under the Ministry of Public Security, some officials took advantage of the complicated procedures to engage in corrupt practice.

As a result, businesses organizing those flights raised the ticket fares to first gain profits for themselves and then to earn enough to bribe officials.

For example, Chu Xuan Dung, former chairman of Hanoi, received VND2 billion of bribes from travel firms and signed 66 documents approving 16 companies to organize repatriation flights.

Former deputy chairman of central Quang Nam Province, Tran Van Tan, got VND5 billion of bribe money from one company.

After more than one year of investigation, the Investigation Security Agency on April 3 announced a list of 54 people who are under investigation for their involvement in organizing repatriation flights.

They are facing five charges of "giving bribes, brokering bribes, receiving bribes, fraudulent appropriation of property, and abuse of positions and powers while performing official duties."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the most important agency in the repatriation mission which was tasked with advising and licensing flights, is the one with the most wrongdoings, with up to 13 officials now under investigation for accepting bribes and abuse of power.

According to police allegations, some officials at the ministry had formed "interest groups" harassing businesses to force payment.

Nguyen Thi Huong Lan, head of the ministry's Consular Department, admitted to investigators that she "only picked businesses recommended by superiors or those who had paid bribes."

Businesses that did not pay bribes faced difficulties organizing flights.

The Investigation Security Agency pointed out that in Japan and Angola, the ambassador and consul general had requested businesses to share the profits they earned from organizing the flights, or bribe them.

In total, 13 officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pocketed VND81.76 billion, with former Deputy Minister To Anh Dung accused of taking VND21.5 billion, former Deputy Minister Vu Hong Nam VND1.8 billion, the consul general of Vietnam in Osaka, Japan, Nguyen Hong Ha VND2 billion, Nguyen Thi Huong Lan, head of the ministry’s Consular Department VND25 billion.

The investigation also found that four officials of the Government Office had received VND14.6 billion in bribes from businesses to approve repatriation flights.

Of them, Nguyen Quang Linh, assistant to former Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, took VND4.2 billion to approve 26 flights.

In addition to those units, three officers in the Immigration Department under the Ministry of Public Security are accused of taking bribes worth VND44.2 billion, with former Deputy Director Tran Van Du taking VND7.6 billion, former Deputy Chief of Staff Vu Anh Tuan VND27.3 billion and officer Vu Sy Cuong VND9.3 billion.

The Ministry of Health was tasked with approving or rejecting the proposal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the frequency and number of flights, in accordance with the epidemic situation.

According to police, during the process appraisal, Pham Trung Kien, a secretary of a deputy minister, had asked businesses to pay at least VND50 million for a combo flight or VND500,000 to VND2 million for each passenger. In all, Kien took VND42.6 billion in bribes 251 times from 19 individuals.

At the Ministry of Transport, Ngo Quang Tuan, when working as an expert at the International Cooperation Department, received a bribe of VND1.7 billion while Vu Hong Quang, former deputy head at the Transport Department of the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam, accepted a bribe of VND1.9 billion.

As a result, passengers had to pay for very expensive tickets to get home during the pandemic.

Each flight fetched profits of several billion dong (VND1 billion = $42,580), according to the public security ministry.

go to top