Vietnam scraps life sentence for bribery, property embezzlement

By Staff reporters   October 25, 2017 | 09:02 pm PT
The crimes will be punishable by up to 20 years in jail when the new law takes effect in 2018.

Revisions to Vietnam’s Penal Code will abolish the maximum penalty of life imprisonment for a number of serious crimes including bribery and property embezzlement from next year.

Giving bribes worth over VND300 million ($13,200) used to carry death penalty until revisions were made in 2009 that commuted the top punishment to life in jail.

But according to the latest revisions approved by the legislative National Assembly, that sentence will be reduced to a maximum of 20 years in jail for cases that involve bribes of VND1 billion ($44,000) or more.

Bribery is common in Vietnam. The Governance and Public Administration Performance Index released in April, which interviewed around 14,000 residents in all 63 Vietnamese provinces and cities, highlighted “noticeable spikes” in reports of extra money being paid for everything from civil service positions to good grades. For example, around 54 percent of respondents claimed bribes were required to get government jobs, up from 51 percent in 2015 and 46 percent in 2011.

The Vietnam Provincial Competitiveness Index also pointed out that in 2016, around 66 percent of Vietnamese businesses said they had to offer bribes or make informal payments to public officials.

In March, the Berlin-based Transparency International identified India and Vietnam as having the highest bribery rates (69 percent and 67 percent respectively) in the region. Many respondents said they had to pay bribes to access basic services like public education and healthcare.

Bribery is one of 10 crimes that will have its punishment commuted from life imprisonment to 20 years in jail from next year.

Embezzling property, a crime committed when one abuses their position or power to appropriate property under their management, is another crime on the list.

Vietnam hands down scores of embezzlement charges every year. The most recent life sentence for embezzlement was given to banking tycoon Ha Van Tham on September 29. Tham, former chairman of OceanBank, was accused of approving an unsecured loan and offering excessive deposit interest rates that caused losses of around $94 million at the bank between 2010 and 2014.

Tham has filed an appeal asking a higher court to lift the embezzlement charge or at least reduce his sentence.

Sentences will also be reduced for smuggling, stealing, openly appropriating property, destroying or deliberately damaging property, and using computer networks, telecommunications networks, the internet or digital devices to appropriate property.

Crimes against the government such as fleeing abroad or defecting to stay overseas to oppose the government, passing information to or voluntarily working for the enemy as a prisoner of war and abandoning combat positions will also receive more lenient sentences.

The 2015 Penal Code had been scheduled to take effect in July 2016 but was shelved due to multiple errors and loopholes. The National Assembly, Vietnam’s top legislature, approved the revised law at a month-long meeting in June.

Vietnam’s new Penal Code is going to treat many crimes more lightly. It will allow those convicted of corruption or taking bribes to escape death by returning at least 75 percent of their illegal earnings.

The new law also spares convicts over 75 years old from the death penalty, as well as those convicted of robbery, vandalizing equipment and works significant to national security, opposing order, surrendering to the enemy, drug possession and appropriation, and the production and trade of fake food.

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