Vietnam journalist pleads guilty in graft reporting trial

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

HANOI: A Vietnamese journalist pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of abusing power by writing false stories about a state corruption scandal two years ago that forced the resignation of the transport minister.

Nguyen Van Hai, a journalist at the Tuoi Tre (Youth) paper, was standing trial with Nguyen Viet Chien from Thanh Nien (Young People) paper, and two former senior policemen who are alleged to have acted as sources for the reporters.

The two journalists were accused of “abusing free and democratic rights to breach the interest of the State and legal rights of organisations and citizens.”

They were arrested in May and indicted for “abuse of power” by spreading “false information.”

Former police Major-General Pham Xuan Quac, who used to be director of the Social Order Crime Investigation Department, and former Lieutenant-Colonel Dinh Van Huynh, are accused of “intentionally disclosing secrets.”

Quac, Huynh and Chien pleaded not guilty.

The scandal erupted at a transport ministry agency that builds roads and bridges with foreign aid. The agency has been investigated since 2005 after officials were accused of embezzling state money and using it to fund a lavish lifestyle and betting on European football.

(Reporting by Jan Dahinten)

Vietnam journalist pleads guilty in graft reporting trial – International Herald Tribune

Four Vietnamese ex-journalists and ex-police officers go to court

VietNamNet Bridge – The trial of two Vietnamese former journalists and two former police officers started today Oct. 14 and scheduled to last two days.

On the first day of the trial, the People’s Procuracy of Hanoi proposed a 12 to 24 months suspended sentence for the former Police General Pham Xuan Quac. It also proposed 18 to 24 months suspended sentences for former journalist Nguyen Van Hai, while former Police Officer Dinh Van Huynh and former journalist Nguyen Viet Chien are proposed each a 24 to 30 months jail term.

Ha Truong)

Four defendants - from left: Nguyen Van Hai, Dinh Van Huynh, Nguyen Viet Chien, and Pham Xuan Quac (Photo: Ha Truong)

Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien, who worked for Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien newspapers, respectively, have been charged with “abuse of freedom and democracy to violate legal rights and benefits of organizations and individuals”. They have been detained since May this year.

Pham Xuan Quac, who was a Major-General of C14 investigation bureau, and Dinh Van Huynh, a Senior Lieutenant and Chief of a department of C14, are tried on charges of “deliberately revealing state secrets”.

In the court, after the representative of the Procuracy presented the allegations, the two former Police Officers and Nguyen Viet Chien all pledged not guilty. Nguyen Van Hai admitted his wrong-doings but not intentionally.

The case involved the investigation of corruption in early 2006, when General Pham Xuan Quac and Lieutenant Dinh Van Huynh was responsible for investigating Project Management Unit 18 (PMU18).

Nine lawyers are participating as counsels for the defendants, while 10 witnesses are called to testify include journalists and several heads of newspapers.

There are 30 reporters from 26 local newspapers and 9 reporters from 6 foreign news agencies registered to attend and cover the trial. 7 representatives of foreign organizations also attend the trial.

The court trial is scheduled to last two days (October 14 and 15).

Ha Truong
VietNamNet – Four Vietnamese ex-journalists and ex-police officers go to court

Trial opens for Vietnam anti-corruption journalists

Hanoi – One of two journalists who went on trial Tuesday in connection with their reporting on a government corruption scandal pled guilty to “abusing democratic freedoms” in a case seen as a bellwether for press freedom in Vietnam. Nguyen Van Hai said he considered accurate the government’s indictment of him. “I have clearly specified that the information in my stories was wrong,” he said.

Nguyen Viet Chien, however, denied breaking the law.

The trial of Hai, 33, and Chien, 56, formerly reporters at the Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien newspapers, and of their source, former police general Pham Xuan Quac, opened Tuesday at the Hanoi People’s Court and was expected to conclude Wednesday.

Hai and Chien were among those whose reporting in 2006 helped uncover a scandal involving millions of dollars of illegal gambling, kickbacks and embezzlement in the Transport Ministry.

The scandal, which was extensively covered in Vietnam’s media, led to the resignation of the minister and the arrest of dozens of officials, including then-deputy minister Nguyen Viet Tien.

On March 28, Tien was acquitted and reinstated as a member of Vietnam’s Communist Party. Six weeks later, Hai and Chien were arrested along with their source Quang, 62, who had worked on the case.

Their arrests led to unprecedented protests by journalists and members of the public.

In a subsequent crackdown, the deputy editors of Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre were stripped of their press cards. The Vietnamese press has reported cautiously on the trials since.

Quac has been charged with eight counts of disclosing state secrets. The law under which the journalists have been charged criminalizes “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.”

It has been used in recent years to prosecute independent labour activists in Ho Chi Minh City and police officers in Danang who accused local officials of corruption.

It carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

While Hai said information in his reports was wrong, Chien said he had verified a report that a Transport Ministry official had paid a 500,000-dollar bribe to escape prosecution and that the rest of his information had come directly from police investigators like Quac.

“I don’t think the information general Quac gave me is on any list of secret state documents,” Chien said.

Quac denied he had supplied secret information to journalists, but most of the journalists involved in reporting the case have testified that Quac served as a source.

In addition to raising concerns about press freedom, the case has called into question Vietnam’s commitment to fighting corruption.

Transparency International ranks Vietnam 123rd out of 179 countries on its index of global corruption, in which the 179th country is ranked the most corrupt.

Trial opens for Vietnam anti-corruption journalists : Legal General

Vietnam trial tests media freedom

By Nga Pham
BBC News

Two journalists, Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien, and two police officers, Maj Gen Pham Xuan Quac and Senior Lt Col Dinh Van Huynh, go on trial in Hanoi on Tuesday over their involvement in the exposure of a high-profile corruption scandal

Rights groups worry the case could hamper media coverage of corruption

Two Vietnamese journalists who helped expose state corruption have gone on trial, in a case that has put Vietnam’s media freedoms under scrutiny.

The two reporters, from the well-known newspapers Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien, are accused of “abusing freedom and democratic rights”.

They allegedly fabricated unspecified “sensitive information” while covering a high-profile corruption case.

It is not known how the accused pleaded when they appeared in court in Hanoi.

Two former high-ranking police officials have also been taken to court for allegedly leaking unauthorised information to the media.

‘No commentary’

The so-called PMU-18 scandal, which broke in early 2006, was named after a unit of the Ministry of Transport.

Officials were found to have stolen development funds meant for roads and bridges, betting much of the money on European football.

They want to make sure that the press write about it as an ordinary trial and not one with any political implications
Hanoi reporter

The scandal led to the arrest of a number of high-ranking officials and the departure of the then minister of transport Dao Dinh Binh.

Journalists Nguyen Van Hai, 33, and Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, were arrested last May and have been held since. Each wrote more than 50 news and feature stories on the case.

If found guilty, they could face up to seven years in jail.

The same jail sentence may apply to Maj Gen Pham Xuan Quac and Senior Lt Col Dinh Van Huynh, the two policemen accused of deliberately disclosing investigative secrets.

Ahead of one of the most talked-about trials in Vietnam in recent years, the domestic press, paradoxically, stayed silent.

It is believed that the ideological department of the Communist Party, which maintains close control over the media, instructed reporters covering the two-day trial to report “only facts and no commentary”.

A reporter in Hanoi, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “They want to make sure that the press write about it as an ordinary trial and not one with any political implications.”

Prolific coverage

The case originally examined football betting allegations at PMU-18, but gathered political steam after the arrest in April 2006 of vice minister Nguyen Viet Tien.

Mr Tien was once in charge of PMU-18 and at the time of the arrest was considered a ministerial hopeful.

The case brought prolific media attention to his wrong-doings as well as his “immoral and decadent” lifestyle.

Another rising star of the regime, Maj Gen Cao Ngoc Oanh, lost his position as head of investigative police after newspapers named him as having personal contacts with someone implicated in the scandal.

But the case took an unexpected turn last spring when the authorities cleared the vice minister of corruption charges.

The spotlight then turned on the media reportage, soon deemed by the authorities to have been “erroneous” and “harmful”.

Fear for coverage

The subsequent arrest and prosecution of the two reporters has stirred up a storm, as Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien are among the largest newspapers in the country.

Foreign governments have expressed concern and rights organisations have repeatedly called for the release of Mr Hai and Mr Chien.

They express fear that their plight will deter newspapers from reporting on corruption cases in future.

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Vietnam trial tests media freedom