Vietnam's information minister punished in TV station acquisition case

By Staff reporters   July 12, 2018 | 04:44 am PT
The Party has acted against incumbent and former information ministers for serious violations in the illegal acquisition of a TV firm by MobiFone.
Incumbant Minister of Information and Communication Truong Minh Tuan. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Incumbant Minister of Information and Communication Truong Minh Tuan. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

The Politburo, the Party's decision-making body, gave Truong Minh Tuan, Minister of Information and Communication, an official warning on Thursday and relieved him from his current position as Secretary of the ministry's Party unit.

It asked the Party Central Committee to initiate "strict" disciplinary action against his predecessor Nguyen Bac Son. Vietnam's Communist Party has four modes of punishment for misconduct by official members: reprimand, warning, demotion and expulsion.

Son, who was the information minister between 2011 and 2016, had approved the acquisition of private pay TV firm AVG by the state-owned MobiFone without the Prime Minister’s approval while Tuan, as his deputy, signed the decision to approve the deal as also several other documents that did not adhere to the nation’s laws.

The Politburo said that Son and Tuan’s violations were “incredibly severe.”

Former Minister of Information and Communication Nguyen Bac Son. Photo acquired by VnExpress

Former Minister of Information and Communication Nguyen Bac Son. Photo acquired by VnExpress

It is the first time in years that an acting minister in Vietnam received punishment of this scale.

In early 2017, former minister of trade Vu Huy Hoang was rebuked for the appointment of the notorious runaway oil bigwig Trinh Xuan Thanh as the ministry's deputy chief of staff. Thanh is now serving life in jail for embezzlement and mismanagement causing multi-million-dollar losses at PetroVietnam. In December 2014, Vietnam’s Communist Party also issued a warning to Tran Van Truyen, a retired ministerial-ranked anti-corruption czar, after inspectors concluded he had illegally acquired and misused state-owned properties.

But the naming and shaming of high-rank officials has become a more common story in Vietnam as the country's corruption fight, led by its Party leader Nguyen Phu Trong, kept pushing ahead with strong momentum.

For a couple years, the crackdown has seen scores of officials and top businesspeople arrested or sent to jail, the biggest casualty possibly being Dinh La Thang, fired Party leader of Ho Chi Minh City who was serving 30 years in jail for violations as board chairman of PetroVietnam.

MobiFone, the country's third largest telco, had made headlines early in 2016 when it announced it was breaking into the pay TV market with the acquisition of a 95 percent stake in AVG.

But government inspectors concluded that the deal had violated investment laws and caused an estimated loss of about VND7 trillion ($307 million) to the state budget.

Regarding the case, Le Nam Tra, 57, its former chairman and general director, and Pham Dinh Trong, 48, head of the Department of Enterprise Management under the information ministry, were arrested on Tuesday and are facing charges of "violating regulations on the management and use of public capital, causing serious consequences."

At a meeting on Tuesday, the Party's Secretariat, which oversees the Party's day-to-day policy implementation, had concluded that the management committee of the information ministry's Party unit "had not strictly followed Party regulations, violated the democratic centralism principle and working regulations, and had shown irresponsibility in leading, directing, inspecting and supervising the ministry."

The violations had enabled the ministry and MobiFone to seriously violate regulations in the deal to acquire private pay TV firm Audio Visual Global JSC (AVG), the Secretariat said.

The committee was also found to have enabled the ministry's leaders to commit serious violations in the performance of their duties, and having failed to implement the Government Inspectorate's recommendations regarding the acquisition in a timely manner.

The Secretariat concluded that the committee's violations had caused massive losses to the government's budget and seriously affected MobiFone's operation and its privatization process.

The violations also damaged the reputations of the Party, the Information Ministry and angered the public, it said.

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