10/15/2008, 00.00
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Regime implicated in scandal behind attack against Catholics in Hanoi

by Thuy Dung
Popular indignation over the affair referred to as PMU18, with government officials and representatives embezzling millions of dollars, has led to the repression of any demonstration, including peaceful ones.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The most serious corruption scandal in Vietnamese history could be part of the reason for the regime's change in attitude toward the peaceful demonstrations by Catholics in Hanoi. The repression, which has sometimes been violent, probably takes its origin - in addition to the economic reasons - from the desire to block any kind of protest. The decision was made after accusations against the regime and the communist party, involved in the affair, arose following the news in the media about the history of Project Management Unit 18, referred to as PMU18. The scandal concerns the embezzlement of millions of dollars from funds destined for the construction of infrastructure, especially roads and bridges, and has involved state officials, including one minister, and a leading party official.

The scandal, which exploded at the beginning of 2006, at first saw imprisonments and resignations, but since last October, everything has gradually changed. The deputy transportation minister, Nguyen Viet Tien, who was in prison, has been exonerated, and the shadows have gradually withdrawn from leading officials, like a brother-in-law of the general secretary for the office of the prime minister. In short, the party has reacted, and now two journalists are on trial (in the photo) - Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien, accused of "abusing democratic freedoms" - and two high security officials, General Pham Xuan Quac and Colonel Dinh Van Huynh, accused of "revealing state secrets." The trial is underway, and yesterday the prosecutor asked for sentences of between one and six years. The media protested at first, but has since been silenced.

The affair is also indicative of the freedom of the press that exists in Vietnam. In the beginning, in fact, the newspapers were able to talk about it. It was thus discovered that millions of dollars had ended up above all in bets on European soccer matches, but also in the purchase of luxury automobiles and expenses for mistresses and prostitutes. The list of those involved included 200 employees, but it has gone up significantly. In January, the executive director of PMU18, Bui Tien Dung, was arrested, accused of wagering 1.8 million dollars. In April, it was the turn of the deputy minister, and shortly thereafter minister Dao Dinh Binh submitted his resignation. The case is not closed: some of the journalists were pointing fingers even higher. The two now on trial wrote about 40 "others" who had taken bribes. Even the office of the prime minister was under scrutiny. The name of the deputy chief of police was removed from the list of delegates at the party's tenth congress. At this, discussion of the PMU18 affair dominated, while indignation was growing in the country, to the point of introducing the fear of "risks" for the regime itself. Even in Nhan Dan, the newspaper of the party, on March 27 a permanent member of the Politburo, Phan Dien, admitted that "government officials have taken and given bribes," and spoke of "cases that were ignored or silenced."

But on the same day, the public safety ministry launched investigations of some journalists, accusing them of divulging state secrets and exploiting their democratic freedoms to the harm of the state, of citizens, and of organizations.

In October, Nguyen Viet Tien, after 18 months in prison, was released and tried again. This time, he was found not guilty. In May, he was re-admitted to the party. That same month, the two journalists were arrested. Many others have been summoned and interrogated. Some of them, to demonstrate their loyalty and drive away suspicion, have been careful to support the regime in its attack on Catholics, second-class citizens.

The municipality of Hanoi, meanwhile, has kept the territory that the Church was demanding be returned to it. But they have altered its purpose: before the demonstrations by Catholics, it had been given to a Chinese restaurant and a clothing company, but now it is public park land.

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See also
Prayer vigil in Ho Chi Minh City for parishioners of Thai Ha
Party official issues urgent call for democratic reforms
China, corruption in the Party: vice-chairman of CPPCC Su Rong sacked
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80% of corrupt officials evade prison


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