City man arrested as forcing vendors to pay illegal protection fee

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Police in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday detained a man for forcing street vendors to pay him money in return for his protection from officials who want to clear the roadway or sidewalks.

Le Khac Cong, 48, is believed to be a member of many such operations in the city.

Cong was caught collecting money from food and drink vendors around Hoang Van Thu Park in Tan Binh District.

Police said he has been doing the job since 2010, under a Do Manh Hoa, 50, from the northern city of Hai Phong, and is paid VND100,000 a day.

Each vendor was forced to pay the gang VND300,000 (US$14) a month and they would be informed in case the police showed up to prevent them from encroaching on the sidewalks.

According to the police, Hoa and his wife used to be coconut vendors near the park until they turned to the "protection" business in 2010.

Police said Hoa usually incited street vendors to resist police officers and used cameras to capture scenes featuring the fights between the vendors and the officers when police tried to clear the sidewalks.

If any vendor refused to pay the "protection" money, Cong would have Hoa assign gangsters to beat him up.

Some vendors reported to Thanh Nien they had been brutally beaten up by gang members when they failed to pay their "fee" because they could not do business on rainy days.

One of the victims, only identified by her initials N.T.Tr., 50, reported to Thanh Nien she had been beaten by the gang many times in recent years.

Her son and son-in-law also fell victim in October last year when attempting to talk to Hoa about the issue.

Pham Xuan Nghia, a 34-year-old who once stopped to speak up for the woman, was threatened to be killed.

Thanh Nien also received complains from a banh mi vendor named Lan, who lost several ribs to the gang.

Most of the vendors around the park are immigrants who come to HCMC to eke out a living.

Further investigations were launched.

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