Investigation halted as Vietnam bigwig accused of bribery in major corruption case dies

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     A file photo of Deputy Public Security Minister Pham Quy Ngo, who died of liver cancer on February 18. Photo: Hoang Trang

An investigation into an information leak in a multimillion dollar graft case at state shipping giant Vinalines will be halted because the suspect, a deputy public security minister, has died, a senior official has said.

Judge Truong Viet Toan, deputy head of Hanoi Criminal Court, was speaking to Vietweek in an interview on Wednesday, one day after the Ministry of Public Security’s website announced that Senior Lieutenant-General Pham Quy Ngo died of liver cancer that same day at the 108 Military Hospital in Hanoi.

Investigators will soon issue an official decision announcing when the suspension will take effect, Toan said.

The judge also said that the suspension is in line with the Penal Code, which stipulates that a criminal investigation will be suspended when the suspect dies.

Ngo’s death came a few days after Pham Anh Tuan, deputy head of the Central Interior Committee - which advises the Party on anti-corruption policies - was quoted by Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborer) newspaper as saying that “there are some opinions” that Ngo should be suspended from his job, pending investigations into allegations against him.

Ngo, 60, was accused of tipping off former Vinalines chairman Duong Chi Dung to his arrest in May, 2012 in return for two payments totaling US$510,000. Ngo was then the chief of an inspectorate tasked with investigating violations at Vinalines.

 

This picture taken on December 14, 2013 shows Duong Chi Dung, former Vinalines chairman, standing trial at Hanoi's People's Court. Photo: AFP

The tip-off allowed Dung to flee Vietnam for four months before being apprehended in Cambodia. He was sentenced to death for embezzlement last December.

The accusations were made by Dung while he testified as a witness at the trial of his younger brother Duong Tu Trong on January 7. Trong, dismissed vice director of the northern city of Hai Phong’s police department, and six others were on trial for assisting in Dung's escape

In response to Dung’s claim, Ngo had told online newspaper Dan Viet in a telephone interview that he was not involved in the escape and that the police would clarify the matter.

The Hanoi People’s Court later announced that an investigation would be launched to clarify how Dung knew of his arrest in advance.

It defined the charge being investigated as “intentionally divulging national secret,” meaning that violators could face a jail term of 15 years.

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on February 15 quoted an unnamed source from the Central Interior Committee as saying that the committee had been appointed by the Party to deal with Dung’s accusations.

Vietnam has some of the most comprehensive anti-corruption legislation in Asia, but poor implementation has rendered the laws toothless, analysts say.

The country still ranks poorly in global corruption surveys. It has made little progress in the latest corruption rankings by watchdog Transparency International.

The 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption, sees Vietnam up just seven spots to 116th out of 177 countries and territories with a score of 31/100.

In Southeast Asia, it ranks seventh behind Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia.

The country’s top leaders have admitted to widespread corruption and inefficiency, as well as financial debacles at state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Vietnamese lawmakers have also slammed the government for shielding those pampered SOEs and other interest groups that they are major sources of entrenched corruption.

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