Ex-Hanoi mayor to return state villa after decade-long squat

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The state-owned villa that has been rented by Hoang Van Nghien, the former mayor of Hanoi, at a subsidized rate that continued even after his term ended. Photo credit: VnExpress

A former Hanoi mayor has pledged to return the state-owned villa he has held since his term ended 10 years ago, Tien Phong (Pioneer) newspaper reported. 
On Friday, Hoang Van Nghien, chairman of Hanoi People’s Committee in 1994-2004, sent a letter to the committee and the municipal Construction Department saying he will return the villa on Nguyen Che Nghia Street in Hoan Kiem District since the controversy surrounding his residence there has “lasted for too long” and “affected the city’s public work to some extent.” 
On Monday, the municipal government accepted his offer and said it would take back the villa this month. 
In 2001, the municipal government rented the French-style luxury villa to Nghien for around VND460,000 (US$21.5) per month. 
The villa occupies a 411-square-meter plot of land.
Nghien's three-year lease exempted him from land lease charges. He just had to pay the rental fee. 
After Nghien’s term ended, he sought permission from the local government to buy the villa and was turned down. 
Bizarrely, he wasn't forced to vacate the home. Nghien and his family continued to reside there. 
In 2006, a series of newspapers reported on the case, saying Nghien must return the house to the government, but Nghien ignored the stories. 
He said that he would only leave the house if the local government found him another place to live. 
In 2013, the Hanoi Department of Construction found a house in Cau Giay District for him. He agreed to move into it, but changed his mind soon afterwards. 
The department continued its search until this year, when local media once again mentioned the case and lawmakers raised questions about government officials squatting in state-owned housing during an ongoing National Assembly session. 
Nghien has repeatedly told the press he “did not do anything wrong.” 
According to media sources, Nghien actually lives in another luxury villa in Hanoi. His son lives in the aforementioned villa. 
On Tuesday, Hanoi’s Party Chief Pham Quang Nghi told a group of constituents at a public meeting that local authorities hadn't broken the law by allowing Nghien to live in the villa until they found another house for him.
Nghi claimed the villa was Nghien's sole residence. 
But he said the slow settlement of the case is “not good.” 
Vietnamese lawmakers said mismanagement and misuse of state-owned property over the last few years had stirred public discontent and pointed out that the Housing Law lacks clear instructions on the punishment of those who abuse the official privilege.
In Vietnam, the government allows certain public officials to live in villas and apartments built with state funds when they are assigned to certain posts or missions that require them to live far from their homes. 
When the civil servants retire or their missions end, they are supposed to vacate those houses. 
However, a large number of civil servants stay put when their missions end, and many even let their families use the homes. 
Duong Truong Quoc, a prominent lawmaker, said civil servants in Vietnam are gradually losing their sense of shame. 
Nguyen Minh Thuyet, an outspoken lawmaker who retired in 2011, said law enforcement is not strong enough in Vietnam. 
He said civil servants who let their families live in state-owned houses must be investigated on charges of “misappropriating state property.” 
Last month, the governments of Ho Chi Minh City and Ben Tre Province took steps to seize a house and a plot of military land from the Communist Party's retired anti-corruption czar, Tran Van Truyen. 
The actions followed a Communist Party Central Commission inspection that found Truyen, who served as head of the Government Inspectorate between 2007 and 2011, had illicitly accrued huge real estate holdings. 
A press release issued by the commission on November 21, 2014 ordered municipal and provincial officials to punish Truyen for six land-use violations he committed starting in 1992.

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