Vietnamese journalists jailed for exposing English football gambling racket

A Vietnamese journalist has been jailed for two years after he exposed how senior officials were embezzling money then gambling it on the English Premier League.
By Thomas Bell, South East Asia Correspondent
Last Updated: 3:49PM BST 15 Oct 2008

The Court found Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, guilty of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state”. Another journalist, Nguyen Van Hai, 33, was sentenced to two years of re-education without detention after he showed remorse for his crimes.

The two reporters helped expose how millions of pounds worth foreign development funds meant for bridges and roads were being stolen by transport ministry officials and gambled on English football.

In 2006 the transport minister, Dao Dinh Binh, was forced to resign and his deputy, Nguyen Viet Tun, was arrested but later cleared of all charges. Eight lesser officials were ultimately convicted and jailed.

The judge, Tran Van Vy, said that Chien had “damaged the prestige of some high-ranking officials and caused negative public opinion”.

The press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the government was taking “revenge” against two “daring journalists who revealed embarrassing cases”.

Also on trial were the reporters alleged sources, retired police General Pham Xuan Quac, 62, who received only an official warning, and Lt Col Dinh Van Huynh, 50, who was jailed for one year.

Analysts say that Vietnam’s communist regime is in the midst of firm action against the media and on internal dissent as it struggles to maintain its authority while the economy falters.

Inflation is at 28 per cent and growth in the country’s export-led economy is declining – and may decline even faster if there is a recession in the West. The economic pain is causing labour unrest across Vietnam and growing public disquiet about corruption.

Even one of the country’s greatest communist heroes, General Vo Nguyen Giap, who led the North Vietnamese army against the Americans latched on to corruption scandal in the transport ministry to call the Communist Party itself “a shield for corrupt officials”.

An anti-corruption campaign by prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung has been widely as lacklustre.

As it struggles to respond to the burgeoning economic crisis and the threat to its authority which the situation represents, the Communist Party’s influential Central Committee has met three times this year, instead of the usual two meetings. Observers interpret that as a sign of official alarm.

It is against this background that Vietnam has detained several journalists in recent months and police even briefly detained and assaulted the American bureau chief for Associated Press as he covered highly sensitive protests during September.

Vietnamese journalists jailed for exposing English football gambling racket – Telegraph

Vietnam to send back tainted milk to China

The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnam has imposed a total ban on melamine in food and will send back any imported products found to be tainted with the industrial chemical, state-controlled media reported Wednesday.

The Labor newspaper report came after Beijing ordered the emergency testing of all milk products more than a month old, in the largest blanket withdrawal from store shelves since infant formula laced with the industrial chemical killed four infants and sickened tens of thousands of children in China.

Melamine has been found in 23 Chinese milk products imported into Vietnam, and about 330 tons (300 metric tons) of milk products, mostly imported from China, have been recalled.

Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Industry and Trade officials will help Vietnamese importers to return the tainted products to their Chinese exporters, the Labor report quoted Deputy Health Minister Cao Minh Quang as saying.

The Health Ministry has also banned all products for human consumption that are contaminated with melamine, Quang said.

China on Tuesday ordered all milk products more than a month old pulled from store shelves for emergency testing. All milk powder and liquid milk produced before Sept. 14 must be tested, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a notice jointly approved by six government ministries and administrations.

Melamine can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it and, in extreme cases, lead to life-threatening kidney failure. Infants are particularly susceptible.

Vietnam to send back tainted milk to China – International Herald Tribune

Vietnam jails journalist in graft reporting trial

Reuters
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

HANOI: A court in communist Vietnam sentenced a journalist to two years in jail on Wednesday after finding him guilty of “abuse of power” while covering a state corruption scandal two years ago.

Nguyen Viet Chien of the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper was sentenced after a two-day trial at the Hanoi People’s Court, a Reuters witness said. He had pleaded not guilty.

Another journalist, Nguyen Van Hai of the Tuoi Tre (Youth) paper, who had pleaded guilty to a similar charge, was given two years’ probation and was expected to be freed later on Wednesday, the witness said.

The pair were detained in May and accused of spreading “false information” and “abusing free and democratic rights to breach the interest of the state and legal rights of organisations and citizens” in their coverage of the corruption saga.

Former police Major-General Pham Xuan Quac, who used to be director of the Social Order Crime Investigation Department, was formally warned by the court for “intentionally disclosing secrets.” He had been accused of being a source for the stories.

A former lieutenant-colonel also alleged to have been a source was given one year in jail.

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 soccer.

The media in Vietnam are rigidly controlled by the ruling Communist party, but have been encouraged to report on corruption as part of a campaign to root out graft, which is cited as hampering investment and development.

(Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom; Editing by Ed Cropley and Paul Tait)

Vietnam jails journalist in graft reporting trial – International Herald Tribune

Vietnam sends journalist to jail

By Nga Pham
BBC News

Vietnamese journalist Nguyen Viet Chien of the Thanh Nien newspaper during his trial in Hanoi,Vietnam on Wednesday

Nguyen Viet Chien was defiant in court

A court in Vietnam has sentenced a journalist to two years in jail for his reporting on a major corruption case.

Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, insisted he was innocent minutes before judge Tran Van Vy delivered the verdict.

Another journalist who had pleaded guilty was deemed to have served out a suspended sentence and freed.

The case has attracted criticism from abroad, with one human rights group calling it “revenge” against daring journalists revealing state corruption.

Two former police officers who were also on trial on related charges received respectively a year in jail and an official warning.

The case relates to a corruption scandal in Vietnam’s ministry of transport that first came to light in 2006.

Both journalists vigorously pursued the story, which claimed several high-level scalps, but their reportage was later condemned by authorities as inaccurate and harmful.

Re-education

Nguyen Van Hai, from Tuoi Tre newspaper, pleaded guilty at the day-and-a-half long trial at the Hanoi People’s Court.

He asked for leniency while accepting that some of his reports contained errors, saying his mistakes were “professional accidents”.

I never have any other purpose in mind when writing my reports but exposing wrongdoing and fighting corruption
Nguyen Viet Chien
Jailed journalist

At the end, the court gave him two years of re-education without detention for “co-operating with investigators and showing remorse”.

Nguyen Viet Chien, from Thanh Nien newspaper, meanwhile always maintained his innocence.

The two journalists were arrested in May for “abusing their professional power and position”. The charge was changed last month to “abusing freedom and democratic rights”.

The two former police officers, Maj Gen Pham Xuan Quac and Senior Lt Col Dinh Van Huynh, were charged with “deliberately disclosing investigative secrets”. Dinh Van Huynh was sentenced to one year in prison while Maj Gen Pham Xuan Quac received an official warning.

Combative

Appearing in court, Nguyen Viet Chien appeared thinner and greyer but retained a combative spirit.

Sister of Nguyen Viet Chien cries as she leaves the court in Hanoi on Tuesday

The plight of the two well-known and respected journalists has shocked their families

He insisted that he only ran information provided by trustworthy official sources and that, being a veteran correspondent with 20 years’ experience, he always cross-checked his stories.

“With my journalist conscience, I can say I never have any other purpose in mind when writing my reports but exposing wrongdoing and fighting corruption,” he said.

His son, Nguyen Tuan, said he was “extremely disappointed with the verdict. My father has fought against corruption until the end, he doesn’t deserve this sentence”.

Media watchdog Reporters without Borders has condemned the trial, calling it the Vietnamese government’s “revenge” against “daring journalists who revealed embarrassing cases and brought greater freedom to the Vietnamese press”.

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Vietnam sends journalist to jail

Vietnamese journalist sentenced to 2 years in jail

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Vietnamese court sentenced a journalist to two years in prison on Wednesday, accusing him of writing inaccurate stories about one of the country’s most high-profile corruption cases.

Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, was convicted of “abusing freedom and democracy” at the end of a two-day trial at the Hanoi People’s Court.

Presiding Judge Tran Van Vy said before announcing the verdict that Chien had used fabricated information in his reports and that he “damaged the prestige of some high-ranking officials and caused negative public opinion.”

Fellow reporter Nguyen Van Hai, 33, was sentenced on the charges to two years of “re-education without detention,” under which his employers or local government officials will supervise education intended to make him a better citizen.

The newspaper reporters were arrested in May for writing about a 2005 scandal in which Transportation Ministry officials were accused of gambling with allegedly embezzled funds.

Chien and Hai were accused of publishing false information, including that an executive bribed officials with US$500,000 in an attempt to cover-up the scandal.

The case prompted the transportation minister to resign and led to the arrest of a deputy minister. Charges against the deputy minister were suddenly dropped in March, and the journalists were arrested six weeks later.

Chien maintained he was not guilty because he believed the information he used was genuine.

“All of my information came from police officials investigating the case,” Chien told the court before judges delivered their verdict. “It was hard to avoid mistakes at a time when all newspapers competed to report on a case that attracted huge attention from the public.”

Hai pleaded guilty and was given a lesser sentence for his “active cooperation with investigators and remorse,” Vy said.

Chien displayed no emotion when his sentencing was announced. His relatives cried outside the court house.

Hai burst into tears and hugged his wife in the court room after he was released.

Also standing trial, police Maj. Gen. Pham Xuan Quac and investigator Dinh Van Huynh were charged with “deliberately revealing state secrets,” for giving information to the journalists.

Quac, 62, who has retired, was given a warning, while Huynh was sentenced to one year in prison.

The Associated Press: Vietnamese journalist sentenced to 2 years in jail

Graft-busting reporter jailed for two years

New York, October 15, 2008—Nguyen Viet Chien, a reporter for the Vietnamese daily newspaper Thanh Nien who broke major stories on high-level government corruption in 2006, was sentenced today to two years in prison after being found guilty of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state,” according to news reports.

Nguyen Van Hai, a reporter with the daily Tuoi Tre, pleaded guilty to the same charge and received a non-custodial, two-year re-education sentence. The Hanoi People’s Court also convicted two police officers who had provided information to the press related to the graft scandal. Lt. Col. Dinh Van Huynh was given a one-year sentence for “deliberately revealing state secrets.” Pham Xuan Quac, a now retired general who headed the government’s corruption inquiry, was given an official reprimand.

In announcing the verdict, the court said that “hostile forces, reactionaries and political opportunists” had used the scandal to attack the state and party leadership while “stirring up activities to disturb security and order” before a pivotal Communist Party meeting, according to Agence France-Presse. Hai received a lesser sentence than Chien because he did not contest the charge.

Diplomats and journalists were allowed to monitor the two-day trial through closed-circuit television outside of the courtroom, AFP reported.

“The sentences handed down today to journalists Nguyen Viet Chien and Nguyen Van Hai are shameful,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “By uncovering a major government corruption scandal, these journalists have performed a public service. The court’s decision is unfair and vindictive.”

The two reporters were leaders in breaking news about the so-called Project Management Unit-18 scandal, in which senior Transport Ministry officials were found to have embezzled more than 12 million Vietnamese Dong (US$750,000) in state funds to wager on international soccer matches among other misuses.

Transport Minister Dao Dinh Binh resigned in April 2006 and several other officials, including Deputy Transport Minister Nguyen Viet Tien, were jailed in April 2006 on related corruption charges. Tien was released in October 2007, and on March 2008 had all his legal rights and benefits reinstated. Reporters Chien and Hai were arrested in May this year for “abusing their position and power” and were held in detention as police conducted investigations into their work.

The arrests sparked rare media criticism of the government, including critical front-page stories in Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre. The deputy editors of both papers were subsequently removed by the government from their positions after they continued to cover the controversy and at least five other journalists who had reported on Chian and Hai’s legal defense had their press credentials revoked in early August on the order of Deputy Minister of Information and Communications Do Quy Doan.
CPJ News Alert 2008

Regime implicated in scandal behind attack against Catholics in Hanoi – Asia News

by Thuy Dung

Popular indignation over the affair referred to as PMU18, with government officials and representatives embezzling millions of dollars, has led to the repression of any demonstration, including peaceful ones.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – The most serious corruption scandal in Vietnamese history could be part of the reason for the regime’s change in attitude toward the peaceful demonstrations by Catholics in Hanoi. The repression, which has sometimes been violent, probably takes its origin – in addition to the economic reasons – from the desire to block any kind of protest. The decision was made after accusations against the regime and the communist party, involved in the affair, arose following the news in the media about the history of Project Management Unit 18, referred to as PMU18. The scandal concerns the embezzlement of millions of dollars from funds destined for the construction of infrastructure, especially roads and bridges, and has involved state officials, including one minister, and a leading party official.

The scandal, which exploded at the beginning of 2006, at first saw imprisonments and resignations, but since last October, everything has gradually changed. The deputy transportation minister, Nguyen Viet Tien, who was in prison, has been exonerated, and the shadows have gradually withdrawn from leading officials, like a brother-in-law of the general secretary for the office of the prime minister. In short, the party has reacted, and now two journalists are on trial (in the photo) – Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien, accused of “abusing democratic freedoms” – and two high security officials, General Pham Xuan Quac and Colonel Dinh Van Huynh, accused of “revealing state secrets.” The trial is underway, and yesterday the prosecutor asked for sentences of between one and six years. The media protested at first, but has since been silenced.

The affair is also indicative of the freedom of the press that exists in Vietnam. In the beginning, in fact, the newspapers were able to talk about it. It was thus discovered that millions of dollars had ended up above all in bets on European soccer matches, but also in the purchase of luxury automobiles and expenses for mistresses and prostitutes. The list of those involved included 200 employees, but it has gone up significantly. In January, the executive director of PMU18, Bui Tien Dung, was arrested, accused of wagering 1.8 million dollars. In April, it was the turn of the deputy minister, and shortly thereafter minister Dao Dinh Binh submitted his resignation. The case is not closed: some of the journalists were pointing fingers even higher. The two now on trial wrote about 40 “others” who had taken bribes. Even the office of the prime minister was under scrutiny. The name of the deputy chief of police was removed from the list of delegates at the party’s tenth congress. At this, discussion of the PMU18 affair dominated, while indignation was growing in the country, to the point of introducing the fear of “risks” for the regime itself. Even in Nhan Dan, the newspaper of the party, on March 27 a permanent member of the Politburo, Phan Dien, admitted that “government officials have taken and given bribes,” and spoke of “cases that were ignored or silenced.”

But on the same day, the public safety ministry launched investigations of some journalists, accusing them of divulging state secrets and exploiting their democratic freedoms to the harm of the state, of citizens, and of organizations.

In October, Nguyen Viet Tien, after 18 months in prison, was released and tried again. This time, he was found not guilty. In May, he was re-admitted to the party. That same month, the two journalists were arrested. Many others have been summoned and interrogated. Some of them, to demonstrate their loyalty and drive away suspicion, have been careful to support the regime in its attack on Catholics, second-class citizens.

The municipality of Hanoi, meanwhile, has kept the territory that the Church was demanding be returned to it. But they have altered its purpose: before the demonstrations by Catholics, it had been given to a Chinese restaurant and a clothing company, but now it is public park land.
VIETNAM Regime implicated in scandal behind attack against Catholics in Hanoi – Asia News