01/05/2023, 16.29
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Politburo member removed over graft, National Assembly holds extraordinary session

In late December, Deputy Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh was expelled from the top body of the Communist Party of Vietnam, ostensibly in connection with a series of COVID-19-related corruption scandals. In the past year, 900 government officials have been investigated. It is hard at present to distinguish scandals from political infighting.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Vietnam's National Assembly is holding an extraordinary four-day session to discuss "urgent matters", including the removal of high-ranking government officials in connection to corruption scandals related to the COVID-19 pandemic

On 30 December, the central committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), the country’s ruling party, removed two deputy prime ministers, Pham Binh Minh and Vu Duc Dam. Minh, who served as foreign minister between 2011 and 2021, was also dropped from the party’s politburo.

The press release issued at the end of the meeting did not mention the reason for their dismissal, citing only wrongdoings, sparking speculation about infighting. In fact, the two will stay on as deputy prime ministers, amid the widening corruption scandals at the top.

According to the investigation, several government officials charged Vietnamese nationals stranded abroad during the pandemic with surcharges on some 400 repatriation flights, earning more than US$ 200 million.

In another case, Viet A Technology Corporation, one of the country's leading biotechnology companies, sold testing kits, labelled as locally made but in fact imported, with a 45 per cent mark-up, thanks to collusion with officials in the Health and Science and Technology ministries.

Over the past year, more and more officials have been caught up in the case, dubbed Viet A – at least 102 people have been arrested so far, including former Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long and other leading figures, who were also expelled from the Party.

For Vietnam, this is déjà vu. Until a decade ago, the South-East Asian country was considered one of the most corrupt in the world. In 2016, the CPV launched a series of anti-corruption campaigns.

For the head of the Party, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, the latest one is like a fiery “furnace".

According to the Ministry of Public Security, at least 900 state officials and employees were investigated in 2022 alone in connection with graft and abuses of power.

With Pham Binh Minh and Vu Duc Dam kicked out, two key positions must be filled, raising questions about who will replace them.

According to some observers, Minh’s and Dam’s departure had been decided for some time since the extraordinary meeting that opened today was scheduled in the second half of December.

It is not clear whether Vietnam's four deputy prime ministers will be reshuffled, although a cloud will continue to hang over them in the new year.

For other analysts, Vietnam has much to gain if it improves its image as a country safe for business, especially after several companies left China due to its zero-COVID policy.

It is also extremely hard to understand whether the recent purges are politically motivated, because in Vietnam the press and dissent are under the strict control of the central government.

According to Freedom House, Vietnam is classified as non-free with only 19 points out of 100.

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