A former deputy health minister’s secretary has been recommended a death sentence, while dozens of others involved in the Covid-19 repatriation flight scandal face up to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors at the Hanoi People’s Court on Monday recommended Pham Trung Kien, the secretary, to be sentenced to death for receiving bribes, and 20 others accused of the same charge 2-20 years in prison.
Former deputy foreign minister To Anh Dung was recommended 12-13 years in prison; Nguyen Quang Linh, assistant to the deputy prime minister, 7-8 years in prison; Nguyen Huong Lan, former head of the Consular Department, 18-19 years in prison; and Do Hoang Tung, former deputy head of the Consular Department, 9-10 years in prison.
Tran Van Du, former deputy head of the immigration management department under the Ministry of Public Security, faces 9-10 years in prison. Two other officials of the department, Vu Anh Tuan and Vu Sy Cuong, were recommended 19-20 years and 8-9 years respectively.
In April 2020, the government organized flights to bring back Vietnamese citizens stranded abroad during the pandemic. Businesses that wanted to operate the flights had to receive approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after evaluation by several other ministries.
In 2020 and 2021, over 1,000 flights brought back over 200,000 people home from 62 countries and territories.
The foreign ministry recommended that the government should approve 772 flights.
Police said 21 officials pocketed VND170 billion ($7.18 million) in bribes from over 100 firms to organize repatriation flights during the pandemic.
Kien was determined to be the one who received the most, with 253 bribes totaling VND42.6 billion ($1.8 million).
A total of 24 people accused of giving bribes, most of them heads of travel firms, were recommended suspended prison sentences to up to 12 years in prison.
Nguyen Anh Tuan, former vice director of the Hanoi police, was recommended 6-7 years in prison for brokering bribery. Tuan had brokered bribes worth $2.6 million, investigation found.
Hoang Van Hung, former head of a security investigation division under the public security ministry, was recommended 19-20 years in prison for obtaining property by fraud.
Prosecutors said the accused, from multiple ministries and localities, used elaborate schemes to receive bribes regarding Covid-19 repatriation flights. They dismissed the excuses made by some accused that the bribes were “thank you gifts” as untrue.
“Businesses were forced to give the money, and it was not simply ‘thank you money’. The accused were doing their jobs, so the money could not be considered ‘thank you money’,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the accused either directly negotiated with businesses regarding the bribes, or employed tactics to cause difficulties for businesses, forcing them to give bribes before their flights could be approved.
To cover their tracks following investigations, the accused transferred the money back, saying they simply borrowed it.
Some of the accused also showed signs of money laundering, and an investigation is underway.
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