Wednesday , July 24 2024

Trial of ex-health minister in Covid test kit bribery case begins

The trial of former health minister Nguyen Thanh Long for allegedly taking bribes to let a company sell Covid-19 test kits at inflated prices opens in Hanoi Wednesday.

He faces charges of accepting bribes worth VND51 billion (US$2.25 million).

Former chairman of Hanoi Chu Ngoc Anh, former Hai Duong Province Party secretary Pham Xuan Thang and 35 others, including Phan Quoc Viet, CEO and chairman of Viet A Company, who allegedly paid the bribes, also face trial.

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

The 38 defendants arrived at the Hanoi People’s Court on Wednesday morning, and the trial is expected to last 20 days.

Former chairman of the Hanoi People’s Committee Chu Ngoc Anh is escorted to a court in Hanoi, January 3, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Former chairman of the Hanoi People’s Committee Chu Ngoc Anh is escorted to a trial in Hanoi, Jan. 3, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

At the height of the pandemic in early 2020, Viet instructed his subordinates at Viet A Company to develop, produce and get approval for distribution of test kits.

He reportedly paid bribes of VND106 billion to various officials.

Long and his secretary Huynh are accused of intervening to help Viet A’s test kits get registered by the Ministry of Health for distribution and price negotiations, and demanded a bribe for it.

In 2020 and 2021 Viet A produced 8.7 million Covid test kits and sold 8.3 million of them to the government at four times their actual prices.

It received VND2.25 trillion for them, and is said to have made illegal profits of VND1.235 trillion.

Another Hanoi court last Friday sentenced Viet to 25 years in jail for abuse of power and fraud in the case.

The Hanoi Military Court also sentenced several officials from the science and defense ministries for enabling the company to get a license for the kit as a state product.

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

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

The 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 earlier applied for a license for the kit, but it was rejected.

After thus illegally obtaining the license in March 2020, Viet A produced it on a large scale, until the health ministry revoked its license in June 2022 after determining that the licensing process did not follow proper protocols.

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