Senior HCMC Party official accused of 'serious violations' in land deal

By Xuan Hoa, Thien Ngon   November 15, 2018 | 09:49 pm PT
Senior HCMC Party official accused of 'serious violations' in land deal
Tat Thanh Cang, deputy chief of Ho Chi Minh City's Communist Party unit, attends a meeting. Photo by VnExpress/Huy Tran
HCMC's deputy Party head committed "very serious violations" in a 2014 public land sale, Vietnam’s top watchdog has concluded.

The Party's Central Inspection Committee said Thursday that Tat Thanh Cang, 47, had made decisions outside his authority and violated state regulations on managing and using assets of state-owned companies.

The committee reached this conclusion in its Monday-Wednesday meeting in Hanoi, and will next decide on the punishment that Cang will receive.

He had violated regulations in transfering land belong to the Party unit, causing huge losses, and in approving a million-dollar property investment at the new urban area Thu Thiem.

"Cang's violations were very serious. They have caused frustration among the public and adversely affected the prestige of the Party unit," the committee said in a statement.

Top leaders of the city’s Party unit had already agreed in June on disciplinary actions against Cang for the alleged violations.

In May last year, the city’s inspectors had announced the results of their investigation into Cang’s decision to let HCMC Party unit's Tan Thuan Investment and Construction Company sell a 32-hectare (80-acre) riverside plot of public land in Nha Be District for just VND419 billion ($18.4 million). 

Inspectors said that it was not within Cang’s authority to approve the sale, so the approval itself violated regulations. By not reporting the deal to the Party unit's standing committee before approving the sale, he also risked causing huge losses to the unit.

The Tan Thuan Company first signed a contract to transfer the land in Nha Be District on the banks of the Saigon River, to property firm Quoc Cuong Gia Lai in June 2017.

Concerns that the transaction was not transparent arose when it came to light that the land was sold at the unusually low price. Its market price was estimated at VND2 trillion.

The Party unit's leaders last December ordered the transfer to be suspended for renegotiation pending a reevaluation of the land by the municipal Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

In its reevaluation, the department put the land's value at over VND574 billion and concluded that the signed deal would mean a loss of at least VND155 billion to the state exchequer. 

The contract was ordered to be terminated last April.

Thu Thiem investment

Investigations also found that while serving as the city's Director of Transport Department, Cang had in 2013 approved a VND12.2 trillion ($524 million) investment by property giant Dai Quang Minh to build four main roads in the Thu Thiem area, designated to be HCMC's new trade center.

In exchange for the funds it agreed to commit, the company was granted 79 hectares to develop commercial and residential projects in the area.

But Cang had no power to approve investments of that scale. Regulations at the time only allowed municipal administrations to approve projects worth up to VND1.5 trillion.

Former minister in hot seat

During the same meeting, the Party's Central Inspection Committee also proposed disciplinary action against Bui Quang Vinh, former Minister of Planning and Investment.

Bui Quang Vinh, former Minister of Planning and Investment

Bui Quang Vinh, former Minister of Planning and Investment.

According to the committee, Vinh has to be held responsible for violations in the acquisition of TV firm Audio Visual Global JSC, better known as AVG, by state-run telecom firm MobiFone back in 2016.

The Government Inspectorate detailed violations of his ministry in March, saying it had failed to instruct the information ministry to conduct the deal properly and failed to promtly intervene when the procedure violated the laws.

MobiFone, the country's third largest telco, announced to acquire 95 percent stake in AVG in 2016. But the Government Inspectorate concluded the deal, which had not been approved by the prime minister, had violated investment laws and caused an estimated loss of around VND7 trillion ($307 million) to the government.

In August 2016, the Vietnamese government ordered an across-the-board inspection into the acquisition. MobiFone in May this year said it had been refunded in full by AVG after the deal between the companies fell through.

For their responsibility in the acquisition, former Minister of Information and Communication Nguyen Bac Son has been restropectively fired from his post for the term 2011-2016 and Truong Minh Tuan, then deputy minister, also lost his post as minister last July. MobiFone's former gereral director and a deputy were arrested on Wednesday facing charges of mismanagement.

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