No info on bribery case from Japan as probe continues

By Mai Ha, Thanh Nien News

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A Vietnamese delegation has wrapped up its visit to Japan without obtaining any more information about a bribery case related to an official development assistance (ODA) project in Vietnam that has made headlines since last week.
According to the Ministry of Transport, Japanese justice agencies, namely police, prosecutors and tax bureaus, are investigating the case, so relevant information is not allowed to be shared until the investigation is concluded and with the Japanese government’s permission.
On March 25-28, Deputy Minister Nguyen Ngoc Dong led the delegation to visit Japan after Japanese media reported that a Vietnamese railway official allegedly received 80 million yen (US$782,000) from Japan Transportation Consultants, Inc. (JTC) to let the latter win a contract for an ODA project.
During the visit, Dong met with officials from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including Parliamentary Vice Minister Seiji Kihara, and officials from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The deputy minister asked the Japanese ministry and JICA to confirm information about the case as reported by Japanese media, and share information related to the investigation.
Both the parties expressed their hopes that the countries’ agencies would cooperate in handling the case and preventing similar cases in the future.
On March 21, the Japan News, an English news website run by Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, reported that JTC President Tamio Kakinuma had admitted that his company had paid a total of 130 million yen ($1.27 million) to foreign civil servants in Indonesia, Vietnam and Uzbekistan between February 2008 and this February to obtain orders for five ODA projects.
In Vietnam, the kickback was said to have been paid to a senior official with an office responsible for project administration at Vietnam Railways, the state-owned operator of the railway system in the country.
After the case was exposed, Vietnam’s transport ministry suspended four officials with Vietnam Railways, including one incumbent and three former directors of the company’s project management unit.
It also ordered investigations into Vietnam Railways’ projects with JTC, which has been contracted for 14 projects in Vietnam, including five ODA-backed railway projects since 1993.
In 2008, another senior Vietnamese official was also charged with taking bribes in 2003 from a Tokyo-based company in connection with a major infrastructure project – a highway linking the east and west of Ho Chi Minh City – also backed by Japanese ODA.
Huynh Ngoc Si, former deputy director of the HCMC's transport department and head of the project, was originally sentenced to life in prison in 2010. Si was convicted of receiving $262,000 from executives of Pacific Consultants International, or PCI, which was hired as a consultant on the project.
An appeal reduced his sentence to 20 years in 2011.
The case rocked the country, prompting Japan, then Vietnam's biggest donor country, to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in development loans in December 2008. Japan resumed the aid a year later.

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