Six officials at the televised trial Monday. Photo: Ha An
Six Vietnamese railway officials stood trial Monday for allegations that they received VND11 billion (US$493,000) in bribes from a Japanese consultant of a major project funded by Japan.
The officials from Vietnam Railways' project management unit RPMU have been charged with "abuse of power", which carries a jail term of 10-15 years.
According to the indictment, they started receiving the money from Japan Transportation Consultants Inc. (JTC) in September 2009 after RPMU hired JTC for technical consultancy for Hanoi's first urban rail system.
Pham Hai Bang, 46, the then manager of the project and deputy chief of RPMU, allegedly told the JTC management that his unit was having financial problems.
The Japanese company reportedly offered to give him money.
Between September 2009 and February 2014 a total of VND11 billion had been handed over to Bang and two other officials, Pham Quang Duy and Nguyen Nam Thai, prosecutors said.
The money was then used for both official and personal purposes, including entertainment expenses for partners, according to prosecutors.
Tran Quoc Dong, 51, Tran Van Luc, 57, and Nguyen Van Hieu, 53, who were RPMU chiefs between 2009 and 2014, allegedly received VND30-100 million ($1,300-4,400) each from Bang as "Lunar New Year gifts."
After being arrested last year, all the former chiefs returned the money they received.
Vietnamese authorities started investigating the case after the Japanese media reported in March last year that Tamio Kakinuma, then president of JTC, had admitted his company had bribed civil servants in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Uzbekistan between February 2008 and February 2014 to win bids for five ODA (official development assistance) projects.
In July last year Japanese prosecutors pressed charges against Kakinuma and two other JTC executives for violating antitrust laws by paying kickbacks estimated at 160 million yen ($1.3 million) in total.
The prosecutors believed that half of the money was paid to Vietnamese officials.
The trial will last two days.
After the scandal broke out, the Japanese government suspended new ODA funding for Vietnam in June. It resumed most of the funding two months later on condition that Vietnam investigated all Japanese-funded projects involving JTC and Vietnam Railways and took stronger anti-graft measures.
In April this year the Japan International Cooperation Agency said the Japanese government would not resume funding for the Hanoi railway project until Vietnam returned the money it received for hiring JTC.
The Vietnamese transport ministry has said it will review the contract to estimate its value.