The trial of two ex-reporters from Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre newspapers began Tuesday in Hanoi following their arrest five months ago.
Also standing trial were two former police officials, Major-General Pham Xuan Quac, 62, and Senior Lieutenant Colonel Dinh Van Huynh, 50.
Quac was formerly the chief of the Social Order Crimes Investigation Department under the Ministry of Public Security and Huynh was his subordinate.
Quac and Huynh, authorized to investigate the Project Management Unit (PMU) 18 under the Ministry of Public Security in 2006, had let the reporters know about the investigation plans even as the probes were underway, the indictment said.
The defendants [Quac and Huynh] had also met with reporters at their offices and homes as well as on the phone to disclose information pertaining to the case to the press, the indictment said.
Notably, the defendants [Quac and Huynh] had provided the media with inaccurate and unconfirmed information relating to the case, the indictment said.
Quac and Huynh were also accused of using unverified documents to report false information to higher authorities, causing internal misunderstanding.
Thanh Nien’s Nguyen Viet Chien and Tuoi Tre’s Nguyen Van Hai, in charge of the internal affairs desks in their respective newspapers, were accused of “abusing their responsibilities and duties” when
receiving information from investigators and other newspapers to comment on and imply graft, bribes-for-jobs, or bribes-for-release scams in the country.
Several citizens lodged complaints accusing the news agencies of calumny and defamation and called for these to be redressed, the indictment noted.
During the cross-examination, former Tuoi Tre journalist Nguyen Van Hai admitted the indictment was objective and clear about his false coverage.
Former Thanh Nien reporter Nguyen Viet Chien in the dock at a Hanoi court Tuesday.
The other defendants, Pham Xuan Quac, Dinh Van Huynh, and Nguyen Viet Chien, dismissed either the entire content of the indictment or a major part of it.
Defendants Pham Xuan Quac and Dinh Van Huynh said they had not furnished the media with information pertaining to the PMU18 case.
However, other reporters summoned to the trial all said during the course of the PMU18 investigation, they had queried Quac and Huynh about relevant information relating to the case and had covered those acknowledged by Quac and Huynh.
Nguyen Viet Chien, former Thanh Nien reporter, told the court that all the information he had covered in 14 articles published in the Thanh Nien newspaper, which was called “false” by the indictment, had been provided by Quac, Huynh and several other officials from the General Department of Police.
“I obtained all those information via phone calls which were all recorded,” Chien told the court.
All the recording tapes of dialogues between Chien and the officials have been transferred to investigators.
Chien also asserted the truth of his information when questioned by Tran Van Vy, the trial judge.
“When the investigations were underway, the media acted as an information channel and we collected the information from investigation agencies which we thought was accurate [information],” Chien said.
“So what about the accuracy of the information about Bui Tien Dung offering bribes to 40 people to secure his release?” the court judge asked Chien.
“I thought it was accurate since I had four sources verify the information,” Chien replied.
“I have handed in the recording tapes to investigators,” he added.
Nguyen Son, another trial judge, asked Chien if he had known about the confidentiality of information provided by Quac. Chien said they were not classified.
The fact that defendants Pham Xuan Quac and Dinh Van Huynh had provided the information to the press was a normal process as regulated by the Press and Anti-Corruption Laws, their lawyers told the court.
The information supplied was thus not meant to divulge the investigation’s secrets, the lawyers argued.
Spelling out the defense for Nguyen Viet Chien, lawyers Hoang Van Quanh and Pham Hong Hai pointed out that there was not enough ground to indict Chien for “taking advantage of democratic freedom to infringe upon the interests of the state as well as legal rights of organizations and citizens”.
They attributed their argument to three factors.
Firstly, the information Chien had obtained were clear and accurate enough since it had been sourced from the PMU18 investigation task force.
Secondly, during the course of covering the case, no agency, organization, or individual had told Thanh Nien newspaper and its reporter that the information it published was “fabricated”.
Finally, investigators have yet to ascertain what for had defendant Nguyen Viet Chien taken advantage of the democratic freedom; and whose interests were infringed.
Additionally, the lawyers also pointed to the fact that when the investigations were underway, around 40 reporters had written some1,200 articles about the case in the mass media.
But they asked why only Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre reporters were subjected to criminal charges whereas investigators were yet to verify the accuracy of other stories.
Prosecutors Tuesday proposed ex-journalist Chien and former Senior Lieutenant Colonel Huynh be jailed for 24 to 30 months each; and that the two others – former Major General Quac and ex-reporter Hai – undergo re-education without detention from one to two years and 8 to 24 months respectively.
After the prosecutors and defense had completed their submissions, Chien told the court: “If I am a corrupt reporter who received kickbacks to write articles in favor of the wrongdoers [of the PMU18 case], I would have nothing to argue when put in the dock.
“After working for nearly one year with investigators, perhaps I was the only person to hand over many recording tapes to investigators. I have fully cooperated with the investigators. My sole wish is that the judging panels will consider my case justly.”
The trial is scheduled to continue today.
Q&A BETWEEN LAWYERS AND DEFENDANTS
Lawyer Ngan Ha and defendant Pham Xuan Quac
Lawyer: Which investigations have you participated in? In what roles?
Pham Xuan Quac: I have taken part in manyt major investigations.
Lawyer: Was the media provided information relating to those cases?
Pham Xuan Quac: All major investigations in Vietnam over the past decade have been covered by the media, including the ones I participated like the Khanh Trang or Nam Cam cases. The newspapers sent their queries and we responded timely. No one said we had divulged secrets.
Lawyer and defendant Nguyen Viet Chien
Lawyer: What was your motivation in writing the articles?
Nguyen Viet Chien: My motives were clear, disinterested and in the cause of fighting corruption.
Lawyer: You were prosecuted for “taking advantage of democratic freedom to infringe upon the interests of the state as well as legal rights of organizations and citizens”. But has anyone ever asked you to run a correction regarding your published information?
Nguyen Viet Chien: No one, yet.
Reported by Thanh Nien staff