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.

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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

VIETNAM: Award-winning journalist released

 http://www.cpj.org/news/2008/asia/vietnam04feb08na.html

New York, February 4, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the recent release from prison of Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, an award-winning writer and journalist.

Thuy, 47, had an unexpected trial before the Hanoi’s People’s Court on Thursday. She was sentenced to nine months and 10 days on charges of “causing public disorder” under Article 245 of Vietnam’s penal code, according to news reports. Having already served that amount of time, she was immediately released.

The Vietnamese government maintains strict regulation of the country’s media—in print, broadcast, and online. Thuy had posted a number of Internet essays calling for greater democracy, according to freedom of expression group English PEN.

“We welcome the release of Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, but we call upon the Vietnamese authorities to stop jailing journalists on dubious charges,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Journalists must be free to give voice to varying political opinions as part of their work.”

Thuy was originally arrested on April 21 of last year on the more serious charge of violating Article 88 of the penal code, which broadly prohibits the dissemination of information that authorities deem harmful to the state and carries a possible 12-year prison term. It was unclear why the authorities tried her under different charges.

The terms of Thuy’s release were not immediately available. Thuy suffers from diabetes and tuberculosis and developed rheumatism while in Hanoi’s Thanh Liet detention center, according to news reports. In February, she was awarded a Hellman-Hammett Grant from Human Rights Watch; the awards are given annually to dissident writers who display of courage in the face of political persecution.

Newly released journalist says thanks for international campaign

http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24764 

Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, the French journalist and activist who was detained from 17 November to 12 December in Ho Chi Minh City, gave a news conference at Reporters Without Borders headquarters in Paris this morning in which she talked of her fears while held and thanked all those who campaigned for her release.

“Locked in my cell, I was anxious because I could not imagine how I would ever get out of this situation,” she said. “There was never any violence against me, but I was interrogated for one or two hours by policemen every day except Sundays. They tried to unsettle me. It was a form of moral terror.”

Than Van works for Vietnamese exile community media, including radio Chan Troi Moi (New Horizon – http://www.radiochantroimoi.com), which broadcasts to Vietnam on the medium wave.

“When you are released and discover all that was done on your behalf, it warms the heart,” she said. “I had this concern while in prison that people did not know what was happening to me. At the same time, I was shocked by all the lies and manipulation in the Vietnamese media. It bore no relation to what I was saying during interrogation.”

Her lawyer, Serge Lewisch, said: “It was a happy outcome, but the risk was enormous. She faced the possibility of life imprisonment on these terrorism charges. And the way the authorities were drawing other things into this case was dangerous for her. It is significant that during all this time I was unable to find a Vietnamese lawyer who dared to defend her. It is an indication of the lack of freedom in Vietnam.”

Bui Xuan Quang, the head of the Thanh Van support committee, thanked all those who participated in the campaign including former French government minister Françoise Hostalier, who interceded with both French and Vietnamese governments. “The Vietnamese ambassador to France told Madame Hostalier that distributing leaflets was a very serious crime,” he said.

Do Hoang Diem, the head of the Viet Tan (Reform) party said: “This case confirms that international pressure is fundamental in this kind of case that the Hanoi regime is not ready to abandon its repressive policy towards dissidents.”

Pointing out that a journalist, Father Nguyen Van Ly, and eight cyber-dissidents are still imprisoned in Vietnam, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said: “We welcome this happy outcome, but we should not stop here. The repression against journalists and dissidents continues, as shown in the conviction two days ago of four trade unionists for giving information to Radio Free Asia.”

Reporters without borders and Nguen Thi Thanh Van’s family voice fears for french journalist held in Vietnam

http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24576

The husband and sister of French journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, her lawyer and the secretary general of Reporters Without Borders today told a press conference of their anxiety about the plight of French journalist and activist who is in the hands of the Vietnamese government.

The 51-year-old, from Haÿ les Roses in the Paris region, was arrested with five others on 17 November while taking part in a meeting on the promotion of non-violence in Vietnam and detained in Ho Chi Minh City where she now reportedly faces terrorism charges.

She had gone to Vietnam to carry out interviews with dissidents and peasants.

“We are very worried about her health and we urge the French authorities to at least get the right to make a consular visit,” her husband Nguyen Minh Ly, a French computer technician, said. “This situation is completely aberrant in which a French woman is being secretly held on the basis of absurd accusations.”

Secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, Robert Ménard, said at the press conference, “We are here to express our deep concern about the plight of Nguyen Thi Thanh Van whom we know well.”

“We urge the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to meet us and the family and to throw all possible resources into freeing our colleague and compatriot,” he said.

The journalist’s sister Nguyen Thi Thanh Ha, spoke about her character and motivation, saying, “She is a very peace-loving and humane person, who is passionate about justice, law and her country. The whole family is shocked by the accusations of terrorism. Our parents, who are over 80, are traumatised by her detention”.

Her colleague, Bui Xuan Quang, described her as a “sensitive, intelligence and courageous woman.” He said the terrorism accusations were based on “evidence which does not stand up to any examination”, aimed at “sullying activists and journalists opposed to the regime.”

Her family’s lawyer, Serge Lewisch, said he feared the worst after terror charges were brought. “A consular visit is the very least that can be done, but France, which has good relations with Vietnam, has not obtained one,” he said, adding that he was ready to got to Ho Chi Minh City himself.

Those present at the press conference showed the media copies of the tracts and stickers seized by police when they arrested Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and the five others in Ho Chi Minh City. One entitled, “Promote non-violence” recalls the struggle of Gandhi and other international figures to obtain democratic change through non-violence. The other was a simple sticker promoting station New Horizon for which she was working.

Since the start of the 1990s, she has contributed to media run by the Vietnamese community in exile, including Radio Chan Troi Moi (New Horizon – http://www.radiochantroimoi.com) which broadcasts on medium wave to Vietnam.

VIETNAM: French journalist arrested along with activists

http://www.cpj.org/news/2007/asia/vietnam26nov07na.html

New York, November 26, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release French activist and journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, who was arrested on November 17 in Ho Chi Minh City along with a group of five political activists associated with the pro-democracy Viet Tan party.

Thanh Van is an editorial member of the exile-run monthly Viet Nam Dan Chu (Vietnam Democracy) and a contributor to the Japan- and U.S.-based Chan Troi Moi radio program, which is regularly broadcast on shortwave radio to Vietnam. She was arrested by security officials at a private residence in Ho Chi Minh City, according to a statement released by the Viet Tan party. Thanh Van resides in Paris.

She and four other activists were initially held at Saigon’s public security office. The whereabouts of a fifth activist, U.S. citizen Nguyen Quoc Quan, is currently unknown. According to a source associated with the Viet Tan party who spoke with CPJ, Thanh Van and the four others have since been moved to Saigon’s main detention center.

The Vietnamese authorities had, despite holding her for more than 48 hours, failed to contact the French Embassy about her status and whereabouts. It was unclear if she or any of the other detained activists have been charged with any specific crime. At the time of her arrest, Thanh Van was meeting with local democracy activists to discuss nonviolent democratic movements—a theme she frequently reported on during her radio programs, according to the CPJ source.

“We condemn the arrest of journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and her colleagues,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We are particularly concerned because this process thus far has taken place without any visible legal basis.”

Thanh Van’s arrest marks the latest in a growing government crackdown against Vietnam’s fledgling pro-democracy movement. Earlier this year scores of activists, including prominent freedom of expression defenders, were arrested and charged with anti-state crimes. The roundup commenced in March, only weeks after Vietnam successfully acceded to the World Trade Organization.

On April 21, authorities arrested Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, an award-winning journalist and writer who was charged with violating Article 88 of the criminal code, which prohibits the dissemination of information that authorities deem harmful to the state. Thuy had posted a number of Internet essays calling for greater democracy, according to people familiar with her writings.