Customs officer suspended after complaint, pending no penalty

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A senior customs officer has been suspended after a businessman complained about customs services in a letter to Vietnam's finance minister earlier this month.

But there's no sign that the suspension will be followed by a punishment as the first investigation by the ministry concluded the official innocent, news website VnExpress reported Thursday.

Tang Xuan Phat, an officer from the Smuggling Investigation Department at Vietnam Customs, has been temporarily removed from his office until issues mentioned in the letter can be clarified.

In mid-December, Ho Chi Minh City-based Tran Hoang Huy sent an eight-page letter to finance minister Vuong Dinh Hue saying that Phat's unit since late October has been keeping his cargo. He said the unit suspected the cargo was illegal, even after necessary documents were presented.

But the first investigation into the matter by the Finance Ministry on December 29 said the unit's officers were not corrupt.

"Their only shortcoming was to lengthen the check time for the cargo, which was due to their low capability," said Nguyen Phi Hung, head of the Customs' Smuggling Investigation Department, quoting the ministry's conclusion.

Meanwhile, it said there were signs that Huy's company evaded paying domestic taxes for the cargo, and the ministry will look deeper to determine whether the cargo was smuggled.

In the letter, the 31-year-old said that his company Huy Phat signed a contract worth VND1.6 billion (US$76,150) to buy waste tires from a company in the northern city Hai Phong. The cargo was stopped when it reached Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, neighboring HCMC, and held by the Customs Inspection Team No.3 under Phat for many days.

Huy himself left his business in HCMC to stay at Vung Tau waiting for the customs' response, he said in the letter.

On Thursday he was notified that his cargo was released, after the cargo ship had been held for nearly two months.

It costs around VND500 million ($23,800) each month for the boat to stay idle, according to the company that rented the boat to Huy.

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