Thanh Nien reporter arrested for covering PMU18 scam

Viet Chien waves good bye to his colleagues as he is escorted to a police car

The Ministry of Public Security arrested Monday a reporter each from Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre for writing about the PMU18 scandal that broke two years ago.

Thanh Nien’s Nguyen Viet Chien and Tuoi Tre’s Nguyen Van Hai were arrested in Hanoi and charged with “abuse of power.”

Bui Tien Dung, the then PMU18 chief, was arrested in 2006 on charges of gambling away US$759,800 and offering bribes of nearly VND1.2 billion ($75,000) to cover up his alleged crimes.

Deputy Minister of Transport Nguyen Viet Tien was also arrested in April that year and Minister Dao Dinh Binh tendered his resignation a short while later.

But the charges against Tien were dropped March, and he was also reinstated to the Communist Party this month.

The police also searched the houses of Chien and Hai Monday as well as the offices of Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre in Hanoi.

Until late Monday, it was not known for how long the Thanh Nien correspondent would be held.

But informal sources said Chien would be in custody for at least four months.

Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, is an acclaimed journalist who has blown the lid off many scandals over the years.

He is particularly well-known for his stories about executed mafia boss Nam Cam a few years ago.

High-profile case

Since the second half of 2007, many reporters have been summoned by investigators for interrogation over their coverage of the PMU18 case.

Officials speak about PMU18 case

“The PMU 18 scandal is a serious case involving gambling away a huge amount of money. It also involves corruption, giving and taking bribes. The people involved in gambling have huge assets they embezzled from public funds. A number of government officials involved in this case offered bribes and received bribes. More thorough investigations have revealed that some instances were ignored or hushed up. The case reveals a serious decline in the ethics of some state officials and party members, some of them in high places. The (Communist) Party and the government vow to disclose wrongdoings by organizations or individuals, whoever they are. Those who seek to obstruct the investigation will also be punished.”

Phan Dien, former permanent member of the Politburo, standing member of the Communist Party’s Secretariat and head of Steering Committee No. 6 (2), in an interview to Nhan Dan newspaper on March 27, 2006

“In Bui Tien Dung’s case, most of the people involved are state officials, and they have attempted to hush up the case through bribery. This case is more serious than that of Nam Cam and his criminal gang. They attempted to bribe their way clear of the charges. They attempted to bribe not only the agencies that directly handled the case but also those that were not directly in charge but could have had a bearing on the investigation.”

Tran Dai Hung, deputy head of the Party’s Central Committee for Internal Affairs, in an interview to Tien Phong newspaper on April 7, 2006

Chien and Hai were called in frequently.

On April 16, 2006, Thanh Nien published a story titled “Bui Tien Dung reveals 40 others took bribes to cover up.”

The 40 accepted the money to either conceal his crimes or bribe others to do the job, the story charged.

A few days before the publication, Chien met Major General Pham Xuan Quac, the then chief of the Central Social Crimes Department and head of the team investigating the PMU18 case.

Chien asked how many people Dung “chief” – as the ex-PMU18 was dubbed – had admitted to bribing to secure his release, and Quac said, “Dozens…”

As further questioning failed to elicit the exact number, Chien wrapped up the interview and left.

From another reliable source, Chien found out that Dung “chief” had bought off around 40 people in the case.

He broke the “Disgraced official reveals 40 others …” story on April 16, 2006.

But after the general again objected to the number, Thanh Nien ran an amplification that stated “Major General Pham Xuan Quac denied the report that Bui Tien Dung had admitted that 40 people had taken bribes.”

But the fact remains the newspaper never said Dung “chief” had bribed 40 officials.

It only maintained that ‘Bui Tien Dung admitted to offering bribes to around 40 important people.”

After all, executives of private companies too are important people.

But for the last 11 months, Chien has been regularly summoned by the police who twisted his reports as purporting that Dung “chief” had confessed to bribing 40 officials.

Importantly, after the correction was run, another senior police officer, Major General Pham Quy Ngo, deputy head of the Police General Department, told Thanh Nien: “In the PMU18 case, 40 officials indeed took bribes from Bui Tien Dung.”

Thanh Nien has Ngo’s statement on tape and has submitted them to concerned agencies.

Thanh Nien does not yet have enough evidence to prove Bui Tien Dung’s bribery.

But it can say with confidence that Nguyen Viet Chien acted fully in accordance with the media laws and the Constitution.

IMPORTANT DATES AND EVENTS IN THE PMU18 CASE

January 26, 2006: Bui Tien Dung, then director of PMU18, was arrested.

April 4,2006: Deputy Minister of Transport Nguyen Viet Tien was arrested.

Mardi 22,2007: The Ministry of Public Security launched investigations into allegations which claimed a number of reporters divulged state secrets and took advantage of their democratic rights to violate the state benefits as well as the rights and benefits of organizations and citizens.

October 3,2007: Nguyen Viet Tien was released on bail after an 18-month detention.

March 28, 2008: The Supreme People’s Procuracy withdrew two charges of ‘deliberately violating state economic regulations causing serious consequences’ and ‘abusing power’ against Tien.

It also exempted him from criminal liability in the ‘dereliction of duty’ charge, due to the low level of seriousness of his actions.

May 7, 2008: Tien’s Communist Party membership was reinstated.

May 12, 2008: Thanh Nien reporter, Nguyen Viet Chien, and Tuoi Tre’s Nguyen Van Hai were arrested for ‘abuse of power’ in the PMU18 case.

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