MobiFone-AVG bribery: Millions of dollars hidden in Tet gifts

By Bao Ha, Pham Du   December 16, 2019 | 07:35 pm PT
MobiFone-AVG bribery: Millions of dollars hidden in Tet gifts
MobiFone's former chairman Le Nam Tra is escorted back to prison after trial in Hanoi, December 16, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
Defendants in a notorious TV firm acquisition case received millions of dollars hidden in Tet gifts, the Hanoi People’s Court heard Monday.

Senior government officials admitted that they received the huge sums of money hidden in Tet gifts and boxes of fresh fruits.

Former chairman of state-run telecom giant MobiFone, Le Nam Tra, confessed at the ongoing trial that Pham Nhat Vu, chairman of private pay TV firm Audio Visual Global (AVG), came to his office to give him some gifts before the Tet festival (Lunar New Year) in 2016, after AVG and MobiFone reached an agreement on October 2, 2015 for the latter to acquire a 95 percent stake in the former.

After Vu left, Tra opened the gift and discovered $500,000 hidden inside. Tra said he hadn't demanded the gift from Vu.

About a month later, Vu called Tra and said he wanted to give Tra some gifts and boxes of fresh fruits. Tra later received two boxes, containing $2 million inside.

The judge noted that despite knowing that the money was illegal, Tra "was not determined and courageous to return it to Vu."

Tra said he converted the $2 million into Vietnamese currency notes and kept the money in his house. He put $500,000 into a Tet gift package and gave it to Nguyen Bac Son, then Minister of Information and Communication. Tra also gave Son $200,000 from his personal money.

Truong Minh Tuan, then deputy information minister, also received bribes in similar fashion.

Tuan said that Vu had gone to his office to give him a flower basket and a gift ahead of Tet in 2016. The gift contained an envelope with $200,000.

Fourteen defendants are standing trial in the case involving the acquisition of the private TV firm AVG by MobiFone. They include former executives of both MobiFone and AVG. The trial, opened on Monday, is scheduled to continue through the weekends until December 31.

Son and Tuan have been charged with "violating regulations on the management and use of public capital that led to serious consequences" and with "accepting bribes." Both were arrested in February and expelled from the Communist Party in October.

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, MobiFone was looking 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 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 is 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 without the prime minister's approval, which was required for this investment decision.

MobiFone acquired a 95 percent stake in AVG for nearly VND8.9 trillion ($382.6 million), many times higher than the firm's real value, delivering great benefits to the pay TV firm's then chairman Vu and its shareholders.

In 2018, Vu voluntarily returned nearly VND8.8 trillion to MobiFone, including the original payment of VND8.5 trillion as well as 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 has proactively offset all the losses incurred by the state.

The indictment states that nearly VND100 billion ($4.3 million) has been recovered in relation to the giving and taking of bribes in the case.

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