Vietnam deputy health minister denies power abuse accusations

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Vietnam's deputy health minister Wednesday denied accusations that he abused power to force a pharmaceutical company to lend him VND1 billion (US$48,000).

Cao Minh Quang, deputy minister of the Ministry of Health, made the denial in an interview with the Tuoi Tre newspaper after several news sources reported that Nguyen Quoc Dung, director general of the BV Pharma Joint-Venture Company, had sent a letter to the health ministry containing the accusation of undue duress.

In a report published Wednesday, news website Dan Viet quoted Dung's letter as saying Quang's request for the loan had been made when Ngo Chi Dung, Quoc Dung's predecessor, was at helm of the company in 2007.

Fearing that the official would abuse his power and cause trouble to the company, the former director general then called for a meeting and the board of directors then agreed to lend Quang VND1 billion under a written agreement, according to the news source.

However, in an interview with Tuoi Tre, Quang said because he had close ties with Chi Dung, he had borrowed money from him twice for a total of VND2 billion to deal with some family matters.

As of June 26, 2008, he had repaid his debt in full together with VND200 million in interest, the official stressed.

"If I had forced him to lend me money, there would have been no way that I would write and sign an agreement on the loan," Quang said.

"I took a loan from an individual with a writing agreement and repaid both the debt and its interest in time, which was legal."

Asked about Quoc Dung's accusation that after he had repaid the loan, he had ordered an investigation into the company's increasing imports of Pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, causing trouble, Quang said it was "unreasonable."

According to Quang, he had only sent a letter to related agencies asking for an investigation into accusations that local drug dealers have been using Pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, which is used to produce common flu and allergy remedies, to illegally make methamphetamine.

"Now police, the Drug Administration of Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Health are inspecting BV Pharma, not any other company. So, it needs to rethink its operations," Quang said.

He also raised questions about the identity of persons or firms to whom BV Pharma had sold its flu remedies, because during initial inspections, many drug stores said they didn't buy products from the company.

Meanwhile, Dung, the former director general, told the newspaper that while he lent Quang VND2 billion in 2007, half of it came from his company, because he then didn't have enough money.

He had paid the money back to the company later, Dung said, adding that as of June, 2008, Quang had paid his debts with interest.

Asked if Quang had forced him to lend him money, Dung, who now operates the Eco drugstore chain, said it is such a "sensitive" matter that it's difficult to tell right from wrong.

Late last month the health ministry banned further import of the substance after finding a dramatic increase in its imports by a number of pharmaceutical companies between late 2010 and August 2011.

In its report published on August 30, Tuoi Tre quoted an anonymous accusing letter as saying that while approving some companies' bulky imports of the substance, the Drug Administration of Vietnam gave BV Pharma priority to import and directly purchase four tons of pseudoephedrine from local companies.

The administration also allowed the company to circulate its pseudoephedrine-contained products under 13 different kinds of packaging.

This made it easier for BV Pharma to transport the substance to criminals who would take it to places where they could make drugs from it, the newspaper quoted the letter as saying.

However, Nguyen Quoc Cuong, deputy director general of BV Pharma, earlier told Tuoi Tre that their drugs are mainly distributed by Vietnam Medical Products Import Export Joint-stock Company (Vimedimex) and the military-owned Dong Hai Company.

The company bought four tons of pseudoephedrine within the first six months, aiming to produce between 60-70 million tablets this year which is almost the same as last year's output, he said.

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