Vietnamese reporter gets 3 years in jail for blackmailing official

By Pham Du, Tran Quang   April 20, 2018 | 04:00 pm PT
Vietnamese reporter gets 3 years in jail for blackmailing official
Le Duy Phong at the trial in Yen Bai Province on April 20, 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du
The authorities will also look into the official’s wealth, which was used by the reporter to threaten him.

A former Vietnamese journalist was sentenced to three years in jailed by a court in Yen Bai Province on Friday for blackmailing a top provincial official.

Le Duy Phong, 33, a former senior reporter for Giao duc Vietnam (Vietnam Education) newspaper, is accused of demanding VND200 million ($8,800) from the official in exchange for not exposing his villa complex last year.

The investigation found that Phong had sent a reporter to Yen Bai, five hours northwest of Hanoi, to verify the origin of some real estate owned by local officials.

In June 2017, Phong told Vu Xuan Sang, the director of Yen Bai’s Planning and Investment Department, that he was investigating him and asked to meet.

They met the next day at Sang’s office and discussed another villa scandal involving Yen Bai official Pham Sy Quy that was making headlines at the time.

Media reports had raised questions over Quy’s hillside complex that included a villa, stilt houses, a pond and a garden in the province. The land it stood on had been designated as forest and agricultural land, which meant residential use was restricted. The government launched an investigation and Quy was subsequently fired from his post as head of the province’s environment and natural resources department in October.

Phong told Sang that Quy had been exposed because he “did not handle it cleverly.”

He asked Sang for VND200 million to ignore his villa and stay quiet, and the official agreed, giving him the money the same day. Phong also ordered his reporter to stop looking into the villa at the same time.

But Sang then reported the transaction to Yen Bai police.

Several days later, police tracked down Phong having lunch with a local businessman, and threatening to expose him as well. The businessman was attempting to pay him VND50 million to look away when police stepped in and caught them red-handed.

Phong lost his journalism license at the end of June last year.

Local authorities have yet to open an investigation into the businessman he targeted but the court on Friday suggested Yen Bai police look into the wealth of Sang and treat him properly.

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