Tran Thanh Thanh, a Vietnamese employee with the British Virgin Islands-based K.S.T. International Holdings Ltd., shows the company's application for a license to operate in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre
The major of Ho Chi Minh City has ordered a local agency to "urgently" inspect a foreign investor's claim that its officials mishandled an application for investment license and solicited bribes, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported on Friday.
The city's Department of Planning and Investment will have to report their findings about the case of the British Virgin Islands-based K.S.T International Holdings Ltd. by this November 5, Le Hoang Quan, chairman of the People's Committee, was quoted as saying.
If there is enough evidence of the alleged wrongdoings, local authorities will "strictly" punish violators to protect the reputation of the city's business environment, he said.
Quan's order came after the case surfaced in local media early this week.
K.S.T filed complaints with the city early this month, but the department failed to give them answers as of October 26 as previously ordered, Tuoi Tre reported.
The company said it sought to open a business to import electric equipment, and sent its Vietnamese employee, Tran Thanh Thanh, to file its application for an investment license in July.
The department then rejected the application, saying the company was registered in the British Virgin Islands, which is not a member of the World Trade Organization. But, its staff allegedly told Thanh to pay so-called "service fees" to secure an approval, Tuoi Tre reported.
On August 24, when Peng Jung Ming, a representative of K.S.T, accompanied Thanh to the department's office, they were told that the application was sufficient and that they could start preparing to apply for a business license.
Peng said his company then spent more than VND1 billion ($44,800) leasing an office and recruiting employees.
However, on September 7, when he came to receive the investment license, he was informed that the application had been rejected.
Tuoi Tre reported that on September 28 Thanh met with Lai Thi Kim Khanh, vice director of its investment consultancy center, who allegedly told him that the application could be reconsidered as long as the company was willing to pay a fee.
She told him to re-submit the application and give her $15,000 in cash so she could fly to Hanoi to meet with officials of the Ministry of Planning and Investment, according to the newspaper.
She allegedly promised to return the money, excluding travel expenses, if she somehow failed to receive a license for the company.
According to Tuoi Tre, Khanh also asked Thanh to "deal with" relevant officials in Ho Chi Minh City on his own.