Ten Hanoi officials appeal prison sentences for stealing land from locals

By Bao Ha   August 31, 2017 | 10:27 am GMT+7

One official is claiming he didn't do anything wrong, while the rest are saying their sentences are too harsh.

Ten former district and commune officials convicted of stealing land from local people in Hanoi have launched appeals against their prison sentences, according to a district court in the capital.

Pham Huu Sach, former head of My Duc District's Natural Resource Committee Division, has denied charges of dereliction of duty he was found guilty of earlier this month.

Two of Sach's subordinates and seven former officials of Dong Tam Commune have also appealed to have their jail terms reduced.

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The convicted officials in court. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du.

The nine men were convicted of abuse of power and dereliction of duty, and sentenced for up to 42 months in prison. The men have admitted their wrongdoings but are appealing because they feel their sentences are too harsh.

Four other officials involved in the case, including the ringleader Nguyen Xuan Truong who was in charge of land management in Dong Tam Commune, have not appealed.

According to prosecutors, the administration of Ha Tay Province (which was merged with Hanoi in 2008) ordered 5,600 square meters (1.4 acres) of land in Dong Tam to be allocated to 49 local families in 1996 for them to build houses on.

However, the officials only handed over land to 39 families and kept around 1,300 square meters for themselves.

Local media has not connected this case with a more high-profile bust-up involving military land in the same area that grabbed international headlines last April.

The other case has been lingering on for years and some locals are still fighting for what they believe to be their land. The situation became worse in February when military-owned telecoms giant Viettel started building an airport in the disputed area, and it reached a climax when police arrested four residents who refused to budge from the land.

Disgruntled villages immediately responded by taking 38 policemen and officials hostage.

It took a week to resolve the dramatic standoff, and Hanoi Mayor Nguyen Duc Chung was forced to intervene and give the villagers his personal assurances that the problem would be solved fairly.

City inspectors announced late last month that the disputed land had always belonged to the military. It said the military had rented the land out to local residents for farming purposes, but the contracts had expired in 2012.

Some villagers have said that they will continue fighting because they believe they have legal rights over at least 17 hectares of the land.

Vietnam does not technically allow private land ownership but grants land-use rights, which confer the same rights as freehold status.

Land-related grievances remain the main source of concerns and protests in the country. In 2012, they accounted for 70 percent of all complaints lodged against the government, according to a parliamentary report.