Vietnam Communist Party punishes official in corruption case

Hanoi – A deputy transportation minister involved in a major corruption scandal in 2006 was demoted by Vietnam’s Communist Party, the Vietnam News reported Wednesday. The demotion was the latest development in an affair that has become a touchstone for press freedom in Vietnam after two journalists who had aggressively reported the scandal were arrested in May.

Deputy Transportation Minister Nguyen Viet Tien, a senior Communist Party official, was demoted by the party secretariat for “failure to properly supervise Project Management Unit 18,” Vietnam News said.

The paper said the secretariat also asked Prime Minister Nguyen Tien Dung to fire Tien from his Transportation Ministry post.

The unit known as PMU-18 was found in 2006 to have mismanaged and embezzled millions of dollars from road and bridge projects in northern Vietnam, some of them funded with aid from foreign donors. At his trial in 2007, the unit’s chief officer was charged with placing 750,000 dollars in bets on European football teams.

Many revelations about PMU-18 came to light as a result of investigative reporting by Vietnamese newspapers, which the prime minister had encouraged to pursue corruption stories.

In May, two of the most aggressive reporters of the scandal, Nguyen Viet Chien of the newspaper Thanh Nien and Nguyen Van Hai of Tuoi Tre, were arrested.

The government said it would hold them through September while investigating charges of “abusing the right of freedom and democracy to violate the interests of the state.”The government also arrested two police investigators who had allegedly passed information to the journalists.

The arrests were protested both by foreign press freedom organizations and the Vietnamese newspapers’ top editors, especially Tuoi Tre’s Bui Van Thanh. On August 1 the government revoked Thanh’s press card along with those of six other journalists.

Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at Australia’s National Defence University, said the Communist Party’s demotion of Tien could be linked to public sentiment in favour of the journalists.

“In this past week, the prime minister seems to have stepped on the accelerator once again, urging the Ministry of Public Security to work on corruption cases and get quick results,” Thayer said.

“There’s a strong lobby in favour of those journalists,” he added, “and I would argue the prime minister is responding to that.”



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