The affair involved Project Management Unit 18 (aka PMU 18), a plan to spend millions of dollars to upgrade the country’s infrastructure, especially roads and bridges, which instead ended up as bets on European soccer matches, money to buy luxury cars and pay for mistresses and prostitutes.
The scandal, which broke wide open in 2006, compromised several senior government and party officials. The Transportation minister had to resign and his deputy minister got 18 months in prison.
However, even though the government tried quietly to sweep the affair under the rug, ordering new trials that ended in acquittals and reinstatement in the party, two journalists exposed 40 “other” officials who gave and took bribes to hush up matters. It was rumoured that among these “other” officials there were even more senior political leaders. And so we had this trial.
In traditional Stalinist fashion the official report by state-run VNA news agency noted that all “four defendants said that their offences were professional errors and pleaded for clemency on the grounds of their previous contributions as well as health reasons.” The trial, the report explained, “touched upon the responsibilities” of the newspaper’s editors-in-chief where the “ex-reporters had made erroneous reports.”
The first statement is plainly not true whilst the second is an obvious threat.
In fact 56-year-old journalist Nguyen Viet Chien challenged the charges, especially that of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.”
“With my journalist conscience, I can say I never have any other purpose in mind when writing my reports” other than “exposing wrongdoing and fighting corruption,” he told the court.
“When PMU 18 [affair] was discovered, the whole political system of this country was focused on the issue," he added.
In the end he got two years in prison for his pains.
The other journalist, 33-year-old Nguyen Van Hai, did admit his errors and so got house arrest.
Colonel Dinh Van Huynh defended himself on the first day of the trial and said nothing on the second and was sentenced to a year in prison.
Police Major General Pham Xuan Quac, 62, who headed the investigation, did not utter a word during the trial and only got an official “warning”.