Friday , May 24 2024

Sacked health minister arrested in Covid test kit scam

Nguyen Thanh Long was arrested Tuesday, hours after he was dismissed as health minister for his involvement in a Covid-19 test kit scam.

Long, 56, is now under investigation for “abuse of power or position in performance of official duties.”

His arrest happened several hours after he was dismissed from the minister’s position by the National Assembly, which also removed him as a member of the parliament.

Long was expelled from the Communist Party on Monday.

The Party’s agencies concluded that he had violated the Party and the State’s regulations, “causing severe consequences, losses to the money and assets of the State, undermining the Covid-19 fight, causing social unrest and affecting the reputation of the Party, the health ministry and science ministry.”

The Central Inspection Committee had said in March that the Party Committee and officials of the health and science ministries in the 2016-2021 term had been negligent in their management, allowing violations in the ministries and their units regarding the approval, management and sale of Covid-19 test kits.

According to inspectors, Long had “intervened and supported” Viet A Technologies JSC in the process of granting temporary and official circulation registration books, negotiating prices, and checking negotiated prices for test kits provided by the company.

Long had issued notices on the price of biological products and medical equipment for diagnosing Covid-19 that violated regulations.

Phan Quoc Viet, general director of Viet A, admitted in January that he had inflated the price of test kits by 45 percent, bribed certain individuals and paid around VND800 billion ($35.2 million) as “bonus” to company partners.

Long, 56, a native of Nam Dinh Province, took over as Health Minister in November 2020. He spent this time directing Vietnam’s fight against the Covid-19 epidemic while also serving as the Head of the Central Committee for Health Care.

He held the highest position among officials implicated so far in the Viet A scam.

Nguyen Huynh, Long’s secretary when he was deputy health minister in 2020, was arrested May 25 pending investigation into the charge of “abuse of power or position in performance of official duties.” When he was detained, Huynh was head of the Medical Equipment and Projects Division of the ministry’s Drug Administration.

Investigators under the Ministry of Public Security said Huynh had abused his power to illegally approve the distribution registration number of the Covid-19 test kit of Viet A. The approval for distributing Viet A’s test kits in the country was made against the rules, the investigators said.

They said Viet A’s director Viet had taken advantage of the complicated Covid-19 situation across the country to sell the firm’s test kits to cities and provinces at prices much higher than the market price.

In the six months since the investigation into Viet A was launched, 50 officials at health departments and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 16 cities and provinces have been investigated.

Two former health ministry officials – Nguyen Nam Lien, head of the Planning-Investment Department and Nguyen Minh Tuan, head of the Department for Medical Equipment and Facilities – were arrested last December.

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