Wednesday , July 24 2024

Disgraced test kit businessman boasts contributions to Covid fight

Standing trial for giving bribes to sell Covid test kits at inflated prices, a businessman told the court Friday he had helped Vietnam become one of the first countries to have its own test kits.

Phan Quoc Viet, CEO and chairman of the Viet A company, was accused of committing violations regarding the research, distribution approval and price negotiations of Covid-19 test kits.

Viet had wanted to “turn the test kits from a state-owned product to a private possession,” the indictment said, adding that he had ordered his subordinates to develop the kits so they could be sold for profit.

Viet said he took the formula for the test kits from the research of the Military Medical School, before developing it into a product. Viet said the test kits produced by Viet A were “special, there were none other like it in the world when it came to its characteristics.”

When Viet’s lawyer asked him about his role in the Covid-19 fight, Viet said he had contributed much as the test kits by Viet A had helped made the Covid-19 fight a success.

Viet said his firm’s timely research had helped make Vietnam the 5th country in the world with Covid-19 test kits, and that his company had helped the entire national by supplying equipment and personnel, “boosting productivity by hundreds of thousands times.”

Viet A had also combined test samples to cut cost and speed up testing, he added.

After the kit was licensed in March 2020, Viet A produced 8.7 million test kits in 2020 and 2021 and had sold 8.3 million of them. The cost of making a test kit is at VND143,400 ($5.88), but the selling price was tripled by Viet A to VND470,000, according to investigation.

Before the case came to light, six million kits by Viet A were paid for by the state, totaling to VND2.25 trillion. As such, the discrepancy of the selling price and production cost of the kits totaled to over VND1.235 trillion, which investigators determined as illegally gained money. To aid with the approval, price negotiation and sale of the kits, Viet A had bribed a total of VND106.6 billion.

Viet said the amounts of bribes given depended on the receivers’ job titles and contributions, as well as Viet A’s own profits.

According to an indictment, Trinh Thanh Hung, a department deputy head at the Ministry of Science and Technology, started a research project to make a test kit after Covid broke out.

He signed up Viet and Ho Anh Son, a former deputy director of a research institute run by the Military Medical School, for it.

The medical school was commissioned to make the kit, and it received more than VND18 billion in government funding, but the product submitted for licensing by the Ministry of Health was Viet A’s test kit.

Viet had in the past applied for a license for the kit, but it was rejected.

as part of the dubious project, Viet A produced it on a large scale and earned more than VND1.2 trillion from it.

Former Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long was accused of having received the highest amount of bribes from Viet A, at over VND51 billion, to help Viet A get the distribution approval for its test kits and drive up the kits’ selling price by 3.5 times.

The health ministry revoked the license for Viet A test kit in June 2022 after determining that the licensing process did not follow proper protocols.

Viet was sentenced to 25 years in jail on Dec. 29 for abuse of power and fraud in the dubious test kit research project.

He is standing another trial that opened on Jan. 3 and is scheduled to last 20 days for bribery. Long is among the defendants in the second trial.

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