Controversial tycoon could lose her assembly seat

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Fatherland Front says one of the country's richest women a new lawmaker who in the past has been accused and cleared of both treason and bribing voters submitted an incomplete biography to land her parliamentary seat

 
Dang Thi Hoang Yen, Vietnam's second richest woman, is now in danger of losing the legislative seat she won last year because she failed to mention her marriage and Party membership in her official ballot biography

Dang Thi Hoang Yen, Vietnam's second richest woman and a new lawmaker, is in danger of losing the legislative seat she won last year because she failed to mention her marriage and Party membership in her official ballot biography.

Only non-party members were eligible for the seat Yen contested in the May 2011 election due to local election quotas. At the time of the contest, Yen said she thought she had relinquished her Party membership, but this was not the case Yen was and still is a member of the Party.

No stranger to controversy, Yen, 53, has been the object of continued sniping in the press on a number of allegations, including divulging state secrets to foreign businesses, bribing voters, and discrepancies in her divorce case with a wanted overseas Vietnamese businessman.

But it is the biographical lapses that have her facing dismissal from the National Assembly as the top legislative body convenes its biannual plenary session next month. On top of the agenda will be her eligibility when applying as a candidate to the legislature.

Her possible dismissal looms large even after the Assembly last November concluded that allegations that Yen had provided information about a national electricity project to foreign bidders in 1998, and had thus revealed state secrets, were false.

However, the Long An Province branch of the Fatherland Front, an umbrella organization of all political and social groups in Vietnam, concluded Tuesday (April 17) that Yen, chairwoman of the industrial park and infrastructure developer Tan Tao Group in the Mekong Delta province, had seriously erred in her parliamentary biography. The local Front office proposed dismissing Yen from her post and the Central Fatherland Front Committee agreed with the judgment.

The National Assembly plenary session will now decide whether or not the proposal is worthy of a vote. If the body decides to vote, a result of two-thirds or more in favor of dismissal will see her out of the house.

The legislator has scheduled a press briefing to clarify the details of her story on Saturday.

Plagues of the past

Yen was under fire last August as well when Cuu Chien Binh (War Veteran) newspaper accused her of providing information about a national electricity project to foreign bidders in 1998. The report claimed she had fled to the US when her offenses were discovered and returned to Vietnam in 2008 with her Vietnamese-American husband. Another newspaper, Nguoi Cao Tuoi (The Elderly), alleged that she had bribed voters in Long An Province districts where she won her assembly spot last July.

But the Assembly concluded last November that all the accusations against here were groundless and announced the finding at a press briefing.

However, doubts surrounding her eligibility resurfaced last week when Yen withdrew her divorce case from a Long An court after a series of irregularities in the proceedings.

Thus, she is still married to Jimmy Tran, an overseas Vietnamese businessman, though this fact was omitted from her parliamentary biography.

Yen and Jimmy got married in August 2007 and he moved to Vietnam a year later. However, Jimmy returned to the US in July 2010 two months before the Ministry of Public Security began investigating him on charges of swindling local companies out of money.

In the same month, Yen filed a divorce lawsuit at the Long An People's Court and in October 2010 a local judge issued a verdict deciding that Yen owned a majority of the couple's property and Jimmy got only US$50,000.

YEN SAYS SEEKING A DIVORCE WITH US COURT INSTEAD

Dang Thi Hoang Yen, 53, said she withdrew a divorce lawsuit at the Long An People's Court on April 11 because the case is being handled by a court in the US.

Yen and Jimmy Tran, an overseas Vietnamese, got married on August 17, 2007.
Yen said Jimmy moved to the US in July 2010 and filed a divorce lawsuit at a "US court."

Meanwhile, she also filed a divorce lawsuit in Vietnam, at the Long An People's Court.

However, the court's decision on October 6, 2010 was recently found to have been procedurally flawed and the Supreme People's Court ordered the Long An court to reopen the case. Yen then withdrew the case.

"Jimmy Tran fled to the US, filed a divorce case and was accepted by a US court. Thus, it is unnecessary and unfeasible to reopen the case in Vietnam... Thus, I withdrew the divorce lawsuit [in Vietnam] and [will] accept a decision by the US court," local news website VnExpress quoted her as saying.
The Tan Tao Group, of which Yen is chairwoman, invited several newspaper reporters and editors to a "dialogue" about Yen on April 21.

Tran Dinh Trien, Yen's lawyer in the divorce case, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that Yen still wanted a divorce despite withdrawing the case in Long An.

She simply wanted to follow proceedings in the US instead, he said.

Trien said it would be difficult to handle the case in Vietnam because Jimmy is facing an arrest warrant for swindling charges here.

"Yen and Jimmy Tran registered their marriage in the US and US courts are able to open a divorce trial for them by law," he said, adding that he consulted with Yen about filing a lawsuit in the US.

"When a divorce decision by a court in the US is available, Yen could legalize it in Vietnam under consular legalizing procedures."

In January 2011, the provincial prosecutors' office found irregularities in the trial and appealed to higher authorities. The Supreme People's Court later annulled the verdict and ordered the provincial court to reopen the case.

Leading lawyers had then speculated that the couple was getting a divorce in an attempt to launder dirty money and property.

Yen was summoned to the court three times for the re-opened divorce trial before she appeared on the fourth summons and withdrew the case April 11.

Significance, loopholes

The very rare development of having a legislature at risk of losing their seat for rule violations has brought into question the nature of Yen's alleged wrongdoings.

Nguyen Minh Thuyet, who for decades was one of the National Assembly's most outspoken lawmakers until his retirement last July, said honesty was one of the five most important criteria set out for a legislator.

"You have to be honest to your constituents who have the right to know thoroughly about the people they are voting for. This is the top priority for every legislator in every country, not just Vietnam," Thuyet told Vietweek.

"Falling short of this, a legislator will no longer deserve representing the people."

Duong Trung Quoc, another prominent lawmaker who has served three terms in a row, said the problems with Yen's biography were not minor.

"I think the record of a legislator is extremely important and we have to consider how detrimental [the problematic biography] is to the country and the constituents.

"I hope the agencies concerned will be able to pinpoint how much impact this case has made," Quoc told Vietweek.

He added that this case has also exposed "severe" loopholes in the screening of the records of lawmaker hopefuls.

"This is a hard lesson to learn. But we must avoid similar mistakes in the future."

Carl Thayer, a Vietnam analyst at the University of New South Wales, also took issue with problems in the screening process.

"Vietnam is reputed to have a very stringent process of selecting candidates for election to the National Assembly. They must win a majority vote where they reside and where they work. How was it possible for Dang Thi Hoang Yen to omit her current marriage to Jimmy Tran and not have this noticed?" he told Vietweek.

"Second, is this omission sufficient to disqualify her as a candidate? This question must be reviewed by a higher authority and include a personal explanation from her."

Thayer did not rule out the possibility that Yen was being victimized.

Of the 827 candidates running for the May 2011 election, fifteen were self-nominated while all the rest were put forward by organizations such as official women's or veterans' groups. Most of the nonparty candidates were screened by the Fatherland Front. Before voters cast their ballots, brief biographies were delivered to the houses of the constituents and displayed at polling stations.

The Long An Fatherland Front Committee and the local Department of Interior have traded blame for bungling the screening of Yen's record.

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