Vietnam officials defend decision to appoint fugitive shipping executive

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The Ministry of Transport has again said it followed all rules when appointing a former executive of state-owned shipper Vinalines, who is now wanted by police, to head a government agency.

Duong Chi Dung, former chairman of the shipper, is under investigation for financial mismanagement at the state shipping line. Dung, 55, was appointed director of the Vietnam Maritime Administration in February.

But officials of the Transport Ministry, who approved the appointment, said Thursday they had not been informed of any violation that Dung may have committed when screening him for the position. They even said the police investigation into Vinalines was conducted "secretly".

"Investigators and related authorities did not issue any notice about Vinalines, so the Transport Ministry just proceeded with the decision to move Dung to the new post," Deputy Minister Le Manh Hung told a press brefing in Hanoi Thursday.

"Now that Dung has fled, the ministry will not confirm whether he is guilty until investigators reach their final conclusions," he said.

According to the government, Vinalines incurred losses of more than VND2.6 trillion (US$124.7 million) last year and VND1.2 trillion in 2010. That compared to a gross profit of VND1.24 trillion the company posted in 2010. Last year, it also reported profits of VND62.15 billion.

Two other Vinalines executives Mai Van Phuc, former general director, and Tran Huu Chieu, former deputy general director were arrested on May 18 for their involvement in the scandal.

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Transport Minister Dinh La Thang said in an interview published on news website VnExpress Thursday that it had been necessary to change the leadership at Vinalines at the time because the company staff was not united.

"Appointing Duong Chi Dung to head the Vietnam Maritime Administration was to save Vinalines, resolve conflicts, and speed up a plan for maritime development and reform of the group," he said, without elaborating on the conflicts.

According to the minister, Dung's appointment was actually a demotion as the chairman position at Vinalines is appointed directly by the prime minister.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs said Thursday that it will announce its findings after reviewing the appointment process. However, Home Affairs Deputy Minister Tran Anh Tuan said no violations had been found so far.

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