Possible death penalty for official involved in a pandemic-related corruption scandal
The case revolves around possible bribes linked to repatriation flights during the pandemic. This is part of a government campaign. Twenty people are still on trial for the same offence. Prosecutors have demanded the death penalty for Pham Trung Kien, former secretary to the deputy health minister.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Investigations are ongoing against 54 officials in connection with bribes involving government-sponsored repatriation flights for Vietnamese nationals stranded abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. In one case, the death penalty was requested.
Earlier this week, prosecutors asked the Hanoi People’s Court to sentence to death Pham Trung Kien, former secretary of Deputy Health Minister Do Xuan Tuyen.
According to the charge sheet, Kien received 253 bribes worth 42.6 billion dongs, equal to US$ 1.8 million, far more than 20 other defendants on trial for the same offence.
According to investigators, Kien was tasked with receiving applications and submitting them to the deputy minister for approval, as well as providing opinions on the flights proposed by the Foreign Ministry.
As a result of the investigation, Kien was accused of using his position to get rich. The other people involved – including several officials at Vietnam’s embassy in Malaysia – face up to 20 years in prison. All were ordered to return the ill-gotten gain.
Between 2020 and 2021, Vietnamese authorities organised more than a thousand flights to repatriate some 200,000 Vietnamese citizens from 62 countries.
However, due to the urgency of the health emergency, agencies organising the flights inflated the prices in league with government officials and ordinary Vietnamese had to pay the higher price.
Some observers have nonetheless raised questions about Vietnam's anti-corruption campaign. While it is in Vietnam’s interest to project the image of a country that is safe for business, it is hard to know whether the latest purges are politically motivated since media and dissent are under strict government control.
According to a report released in May this year by Amnesty International, at least 100 death sentences were carried out in 2022, but the real number is probably much higher since Vietnam does not release the relevant data.
Human rights groups note that most death sentences in Vietnam are imposed for drug trafficking, which is not deemed an extremely serious crime under international law.
According to some sources, Vietnam follows China and Iran in terms of executions, with 429 between 2013 and 2016, with a spike during the pandemic.
Human rights groups estimate that about a thousand people are on death row in the Southeast Asian country, including several foreigners from Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and Kenya.
Vietnam borders the region’s infamous Golden Triangle, one of the world’s top opium-producing areas.