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.

Vietnam arrests journalists who reported on graft

HANOI, May 13 (Reuters) – Police arrested two Vietnamese journalists whose stories of bribery, corruption and gambling in a transport ministry scandal rocked the ruling Communist Party in 2006, their newspapers reported on Tuesday.

The report said the journalists from Tuoi Tre (Youth) and Thanh Nien (Young People) were indicted on Monday for “abuse of power” by spreading “false information” on the scandal that led to the resignation of the transport minister.

A senior police officer, who was an apparent source for the reporters, was also indicted on Monday with “abuse of power”, an online newspaper quoted a police ministry spokesman as saying.

A transport ministry agency that builds roads and bridges with foreign aid has been investigated since 2005 after officials were accused of embezzling state money and using it for lavish lifestyles and betting on European soccer.

The Southeast Asian country of 85 million has opened its economy and foreign policy to the world, but senior officials regularly reaffirm their desire to maintain state control over all media.

The media was encouraged to report on corruption as the government publicly stepped up its campaign to root out graft, which is cited as hampering investment and development.

The arrested reporters Nguyen Van Hai, 33, of Tuoi Tre and Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, of Thanh Nien, were among the most prolific on the story of corruption within the agency known as PMU 18.

“I hold that the prosecution and detention of the two journalists of Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre at this time is not normal,” Nguyen Quoc Phong, deputy editor-in-chief of Thanh Nien daily was quoted as saying in Tuoi Tre.

Huy Duc, a longtime Vietnamese journalist, wrote in his blog that the arrests “could easily make the public think that people fighting against corruption are being attacked back” but he added that some officials “used the newspapers as a means to further their own cause” in the investigation or for promotion.

Back in 2006, the transport minister resigned to take responsibility for the scandal. In April, prosecutors exempted his deputy from criminal responsibility.

The former head of the big-budget agency, Project Management Unit 18, was sentenced to 13 years in jail last year for illegal gambling and attempts to cover it up with bribes. Eight other officials, including former police officers and businessmen, have been jailed for their part in the scandal. (Reporting by Grant McCool; Editing by Valerie Lee)

http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSBKK324932

Vietnam arrests two journalists for alleged false reports on soccer gambling scandal

The Associated Press
Published: May 13, 2008

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnamese authorities have arrested two journalists who reported aggressively on a major gambling and bribery scandal that prompted the resignation of the transportation minister, state media reported Tuesday.

The two journalists were taken into police custody Monday and accused of reporting “false information” on the case, in which ministry employees gambled millions of dollars on European soccer matches, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported Tuesday.

The case led to the conviction of nine people, including several government officials, and the resignation of Transport Minister Dao Dinh Binh. Gambling is illegal in Vietnam.

Nguyen Van Hai, 33, of Tuoi Tre and Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, of Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper, were accused of “abuse of power and authority” for their reporting on the case, which first surfaced in late 2005, Tuoi Tre reported.

Arrested journalists Nguyen Viet Chien (L) and Nguyen Van Hai seen on the front page of the Thanh Nien daily (AFP)

The specifics of the charges against the two remained unclear Tuesday.

While Vietnam is opening up economically, the case underscores the communist government’s determination to direct the flow of information in the state-controlled media.

Police, government officials and newspaper executives were unavailable for comment Tuesday, but both newspapers printed articles saying their reporters had done nothing wrong.

“These arrests really stunned the journalism community,” wrote Bui Thanh, deputy editor of Tuoi Tre. “They are saddened and indignant.”

Thanh said the arrests were a “mockery of justice.”

Thanh Nien quoted Chien as saying just before his arrest: “My only crime was to actively fight against corruption. I will fight to the end to defend the righteousness of my cause.”

The scandal was first uncovered in late 2005 when Bui Tien Dung, the director of a Ministry of Transportation project management unit, was arrested for spending millions of dollars betting on European soccer games.

He was convicted of gambling and bribery and sentenced to 13 years in prison in a trial last August while eight others, including former government officials and police officers, received jail terms up seven years for gambling or bribery or both.

Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien, two of Vietnam’s most popular newspapers, were among the most aggressive in covering the scandal.

Tuoi Tre reported Tuesday that over the past year, dozens of local journalists have been summoned by police questioning where they obtained information on the case that authorities claimed was incorrect.

Vietnam arrests two journalists for alleged false reports on soccer gambling scandal – International Herald Tribune

Pro-democracy activists jailed in Vietnam

13 May 2008

HO CHI MINH CITY (AFP) — Three pro-democracy activists including an American were handed jail terms of up to nine months on “terrorism” charges in a trial held under tight security Tuesday.

The three, all linked to a US-based party banned in Vietnam, were accused of “inciting riots threatening the national security” of the communist country by distributing leaflets.

“All the three defendants are guilty of terrorism offences,” said presiding judge Vu Phi Long after the brief trial.

They “planned to distribute a huge number of leaflets inciting riots … threatening the security of the state,” he added.

US citizen Nguyen Quoc Quan, 55, was sentenced to six months and ordered deported after serving his sentence.

He was expected to leave Vietnam in the coming days as he has already spent nearly six months in jail since being detained on November 17.

Vietnamese activist Nguyen The Vu, 31, was sentenced to five months and 26 days, which allows him to leave prison on Tuesday.

The third defendant, Nguyen Hai, 57, was handed a nine-month sentence and will remain behind bars for a further three months.

A US embassy spokeswoman welcomed Nguyen Quoc Quan’s release but expressed disappointment with the terrorism charge.

“We are not aware of any information that would support charges of ‘terrorism’ against Nguyen Quoc Quan,” the spokeswoman said.

“We object to the detention and prosecution of any individual for peacefully expressing his or her own views.”

About 100 police were deployed around the courthouse in the southern hub of Ho Chi Minh City, where foreign media were allowed to follow the proceedings on closed-circuit television.

The trio, all accused of being members of Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party) — regularly called a “terrorist” organisation by the authorities — were arrested in November after arriving in the former Saigon, state media said.

Three activists arrested with them — US citizen Leon Truong, French radio journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and Vietnamese national Nguyen Trong Khiem — were released last year following international protests.

According to police newspaper Cong An Nhan Dan, the three on trial were assigned by Viet Tan to “enter Vietnam to conduct a terrorism plan to create social security disorder.”

Police “seized nearly 7,000 reactionary flyers, more than 8,000 envelopes and 3,775 stamps,” when the three were arrested, the newspaper said in its Monday edition.

Viet Tan said they were only “preparing to distribute leaflets promoting democracy through non-violent means.”

In court, Quan and Hai admitted to being members of Viet Tan, while Vu said he was simply helping his friends put together the flyers.

Quan told the court that he did “not commit terrorist offences.”

“The content (of the leaflets) does not encourage people to rise up or threaten anyone,” he said.

Vietnam’s state-controlled media has repeatedly accused Viet Tan activists of being “terrorists,” but the party says it is “committed to achieving democratic change through peaceful, non-violent means.”

The group also said that “the legal system in Vietnam is entirely under the control of the Vietnamese Communist Party and all decisions by the court are pre-determined according to political considerations.”

Vietnam, a one-party state, says it does not punish anyone for their political views and only prosecutes criminals for breaking the law.

AFP: Pro-democracy activists jailed in Vietnam