Friday , July 12 2024

Ex health minister faces 19-20 years in jail for taking bribes in Covid test kit scandal

Prosecutors have proposed a prison term of 19-20 years for former Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long, accusing him of suggesting and receiving bribes from a Covid-19 test kit-making company.

Long, 57, is charged with taking VND51 billion (US$2.25 million) from Viet A Company to let it be sold widely in the country at inflated prices.

Former chairman of Hanoi Chu Ngoc Anh should get three-four years in jail while former Hai Duong Province Party secretary Pham Xuan Thang should stay five-six years behind bars, according to the Hanoi People’s Procuracy.

Thang, 58, is charged with abusing power while performing official duties and accepting a bribe of VND4 billion, and Anh, 58, faces charges of violating state asset management regulations, causing a loss of nearly VND19 billion to the government.

Phan Quoc Viet, CEO and chairman of Viet A, is proposed to be jailed for 15-16 years for violating regulations on bidding, causing serious consequences and another 15-16 years for giving bribes.

Another trial in late December had sentenced Viet to 25 years in jail for abuse of power and fraud in the case. That trial accused him of submitting the test kit for license as a state product.

For the same charge of taking bribes, prosecutors proposed jail terms of 14-15 years for Trinh Thanh Hung, a former deputy department head at the Ministry of Science and Technology, 13-14 years for Pham Duy Tuyen, former director of Hai Duong Province’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, eight-nine years each for Nguyen Minh Tuan, former head of the Department of Health Equipment and Works, and Nguyen Nam Lien, former head of the Department of Financial Planning, and nine-ten years for Nguyen Huynh, former secretary of Long.

The prosecutors said Monday that when the pandemic broke out, several senior leaders in several ministries, departments, and localities colluded with Viet A for personal benefits.

They said those officials were “corrupt and degenerate”, violating the integrity of the state, and causing a loss of trust in the public.

According to the indictment, former minister Long had suggested Viet to bribe him several times.

During the trial that started on Jan. 3, Long admitted to having taken the money from Viet but denied having asked for it.

However, his secretary Huynh testified that it was Long who told him to suggest Viet give the bribes.

Phan Quoc Viet is taken to a court in Hanoi on January 8, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Phan Quoc Viet is taken to a court in Hanoi on Jan. 8, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

After Covid broke out, Hung at the science ministry began a research project to make a test kit in 2020.

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

The school was commissioned to make the kit, and it received more than VND18 billion ($740,000) in government funding, but the kit submitted for licensing by the health ministry was Viet A’s.

Viet A had earlier applied for a license on its own, but was refused.

After thus illegally obtaining the license in March 2020, Viet A produced and sold it on a large scale.

But in June 2022 the health ministry revoked the license after determining the licensing process had not followed proper protocols.

The prosecution said Viet paid bribes of VND106 billion to several officials.

In 2020 and 2021, Viet A produced 8.7 million Covid-19 test kits and sold 8.3 million of them at prices three times higher than the actual cost. The company was paid VND2.25 trillion by the state, and was accused to have illegally gained VND1.235 trillion.

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