Prisoner of the Century files $800,000 lawsuit for false murder charges

By Lam Le   April 12, 2016 | 07:23 pm GMT+7
Huynh Van Nen and his family have filed a lawsuit at Binh Thuan province People's Court for two false murder charges that kept him in prison for nearly 17 years.

The VND18 billion ($800,000) claim is to compensate Nen for false charges, emotional distress and legal fees.

Nen's lawyer Pham Cong Ut told VnExpress that the suffering Nen went through was immesurable. The lawsuit has used the Law on State Compensation Liability as reference for the compensation claimed, which includes damage to property, physical and mental health and income lost over the 17 years. Furthermore, Nen's family spent many years appealing, which cost them a house, land and other properties.

Once a healthy man who supported his family, Nen's health has deteriorated and he has nearly lost sight in one eye. Nen also claims he was abused in prison. Ut added that the Ho Chi Minh City Mental Hospital had concluded that Nen showed signs of mental ilness.


Huynh Van Nen (right) and his lawyer Pham Cong Ut. Photo: Phuoc Tuan

Nen is dubbed Prisoner of the Century for being the only person falsely charged for two counts of murder.

On May 15, 1998, Nen was arrested for allegedly murdering Le Thi Bong and stealing two of her gold rings in Binh Thuan province. Seven months later, Nen and nine relatives became suspects in a case known as “cashew garden” during which Duong Thi My was murdered in 1993. The latter case was dropped as police failed to find conclusive evidence.

In August the following year, Nen was sentenced to two years imprisonment for damaging property and life imprisonment for murder and robbery. On October 23, 2000, Nen appealed but was rejected by the court a year later. Only after the police found the actual murderer of Bong was Nen acquitted and subsequently released from prison on October 22, 2015 after serving nearly 17 years of his life sentence.

Upon release, Nen received an official apology from Binh Thuan People’s Court but so far, no compensation. Subsequently, Nen wrote a letter to the Supreme People’s Procuracy of Vietnam demanding criminal proceedings be taken against 14 police, procuracy and judicial officers for gross negligence.

Dinh Ky Dap, former lead investigator of Nen’s case, told VnExpress: “Back then, the investigation met the requirements. After reviewing the files, I can see I wasn’t careful enough and trusted Cao Van Hung [another investigator] too much. Perhaps the investigator was negligent. At that time I was both studying and in charge of the case so I trusted the investigators and the police.”

Last March, the Investigation Bureau of the Supreme People’s Procuracy of Vietnam met with Nen and his family as part of the process to verify Nen’s letter.

Nen's lawyer Ut is positive that justice will be served, saying that “this will prevent other similar gross negligence in the future”.

Soon after on March 8, Nen filed another letter claiming to be innocent of charges involving damaging property, for which he was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Two weeks later, Nen suffered brain damage in a motorcycle accident. He has since recovered and returned home from hospital. 

Last year, the Ministry of Finance compensated Nguyen Thanh Chan VND 7.2 billion ($320,000) for a false murder charge for which he served 10 years in prison.

According to Tran Tien Dung, chief of office at the Ministry of Justice, in 2015 alone, nearly 100 compensation cases were processed. Total compensation amounted to over VND16 billion.

Additionally, the People’s Court has processed 21 civil lawsuits on state compensation where victims disagreed with the final verdict. Among them, 14 have been resolved with compensation totaling over VND26 billion.

However, the number of cases resolved in 2015 actually fell compared to 2014.

Nguyen Van Bon, director general of the Bureau of State Compensation, told VnExpress that some central and local officials are still “not sufficiently aware” of this issue and there’s a lack of full-time officials available to resolve such claims. Some cases are very complex and claims involve large sums of money, so verifying them is very time consuming and requires cooperation from a number of agencies.

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