Two former ministers get life, 14 years in jail for bribery

By Bao Ha, Pham Du   December 28, 2019 | 11:56 am GMT+7

Two former information ministers have got life and 14 years in jail respectively for violations in a TV firm acquisition scandal.

The Hanoi People’s Court on Saturday handed down the life sentence to Nguyen Bac Son, former Minister of Information and Communications, for receiving $3 million in bribes to push for the acquisition of private pay TV firm Audio Visual Global (AVG) by state-owned telecom giant MobiFone.

Former minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Bac Son leaves the court after receiving a life sentence, December 28, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Former Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Bac Son leaves the court after receiving a life sentence, December 28, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

The court said that since Son's family had paid VND66 billion ($3 million) on his behalf to the state budget, the death penalty proposed by prosecutors was not called for.

Truong Minh Tuan, then the deputy information minister, another main accused in the case, was jailed for 14 years.

Both Son, 66, and Tuan, 59, were found guilty of "violating regulations on the management and use of public capital that led to serious consequences" and "taking bribes." They were arrested in February and expelled from the Communist Party in October.

Former Minister of Information and Communications Truong Minh Tuan at the court yard, December 20,2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Former Minister of Information and Communications Truong Minh Tuan at the court yard, December 20,2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Pham Nhat Vu, chairman of private pay TV firm AVG, was sentenced to three years in prison for the charge of bribery. Prosecutors have determined that Vu was not chiefly responsible for the losses to MobiFone caused by Son and his accomplices, noting that he had proactively offset all the losses incurred by the state.

Former chairman of MobiFone, Le Nam Tra, was sentenced to 23 years in jail while MobiFone's former general director Cao Duy Hai got a jail term of 14 years. They too were found guilty of "violating regulations on the management and use of public capital that led to serious consequences" and "taking bribes."

Other defendants in the notorious scandal received jail terms of 2-5 years in jail.

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 said that in 2015, telecom giant MobiFone, under the Ministry of Information and Communications, wanted 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. 

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

Investigators found that in order for the acquisition deal to be approved in a way that benefits him, Vu gave bribes of $3 million to Son, $200,000 to Tuan, $2.5 million to Tra and $500,000 to Hai.

After discovering the violations, investigators assessed that Son, Tuan and several MobiFone leaders had directly caused losses of nearly VND6.6 trillion ($284.4 million) to the state budget.

In 2018, Vu voluntarily returned nearly VND8.8 trillion to MobiFone, which included the original payment of VND8.5 trillion as well as the lost interest payments and other expenses.

Vietnam’s corruption crackdown has intensified since it was launched in 2017, and a number of high-ranking officials, top military officers and businesspeople have been imprisoned.

Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, who has been spearheading the country’s anti-corruption campaign, has repeatedly said that the corruption fight would maintain its momentum and spare no one.

 
 
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