Appeals court overturns verdict in major corruption case

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An appeals court in Ho Chi Minh City Thursday overturned the verdict of a court that handed down a 26-year-jail term to the former head of Hoc Mon District for accepting bribes and abusing power last year.


The People's Supreme Court also ordered a new investigation into the bank swindle case that involved several officials, including Nguyen Van Khoe, former chairman of Hoc Mon District's People's Committee and several bank officials.


According to the Court of Appeal, at the first hearing last August, the HCMC People's Court had failed to properly identify the crimes of involved people and critically violated legal procedures.


Khoe had received a 26-year-old jail term for accepting VND1.4 billion (US$67,567) in bribes from Tran Thi Ha, former director of Thanh Phat Company and her husband and deputy, Ha Van Hoa, to approve a housing estate and an industrial zone in the district's Dong Thanh Commune in late 2002 and early 2003.


He'd also asked them for cash and gifts worth a total of $15,000 and VND780 million ($40,082) to bribe other officials to secure the approval, despite the fact that Thinh Phat didn't have the financial capability to build them, the first trial heard. It found Khoe guilty of "abusing power."


With the approval for the two projects, Ha and Hoa secured loans of 3,000 taels (approximate 3,600 ounces) of gold and VND18 billion ($868,725) which then totaled about VND43 billion ($2 million) from the Cho Lon Branch of the Vietnam Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Agribank).


The couple received life sentences for "offering bribes" and "committing fraud to appropriate properties."


However, the appeals court said that Ha and Hoa hadn't appropriated the whole loan as concluded at the first trial, but used nearly VND33 billion ($1.59 million) of it to pay compensation for site clearance and taxes.


While it agreed with the HCMC People's Court that Khoe had accepted bribes, it said part of the money was given by Ha to Khoe without asking for anything in return.This had to be further investigated, it said.


The appeals court also said that the HCMC People's Court made critical violations of legal procedures in asking Ha and Hoa to pay back the loans as compensation to Agribank, because the bank hadn't made any claim. The gold and money then were ordered to be transferred to the state budget.


Many other details in the case also needed more clarifications, said the court, which held the second hearing in response to the defendants' appeals for more lenient sentences and acquittal of crimes.


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