Vietnam Customs has asked its Ho Chi Minh City office for an explanation about a newspaper’s stories that its officers at Tan Son Nhat Airport bullied people into paying bribes to clear goods, an official said.
Passengers have their luggage scanned at Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat Airport. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Van Lich, who is in charge of the agency’s anti-corruption hotline, was quoted by Tuoi Tre as saying that, following the newspaper’s reports about several alleged victims’ accounts, guilty officers would get the sack.
A Vietnamese-American identified only as B.L. was quoted as saying that when he was checking in for a flight to Japan last Tuesday, a customs officer asked him for the receipt for a karaoke machine he was carrying so that they could collect tax of 10 percent of its value.
He said the locally-made machine was a gift from his relatives, adding that he had made many trips to Vietnam but it was the first time he had encountered such a “strange” demand.
When he asked why there was a need for the receipt considering he did not claim a value-added-tax refund, the officer merely insisted on having it.
It is unclear how the case ended, but the man said he did not file a complaint for fear of getting into trouble.
In another account, a Vietnamese man said he once witnessed a customs officer demanding receipts for some wooden sandals from two travel company employees going to Singapore.
One of them said the sandals were a gift for their business partners in Singapore and cost very little.
But in the end, since the officer refused to clear them without the receipts, the duo had to leave the sandals behind.
Overseas Vietnamese targeted
The newspaper stories attracted attention and soon many people shared similar experiences they had had.
One said her brother who lives in Canada brought a new laptop as a gift for the family during his recent trip to Vietnam. But customs officers kept questioning him about it and rummaging through his luggage until he paid them off.
Another said his relative who lives in the US recently came to Vietnam with two laptops and an iPad, all used, but had to pay customs officers US$30 to get them through.
Kevin Le, himself possibly an overseas Vietnamese, said overseas Vietnamese are harassed by all agencies at Tan Son Nhat Airport.
There are problems with the way immigration police, customs, and airport security treat Vietnamese with foreign passports, he said.
His claim was backed by Tran Hoa Phuong, vice chairman of the HCMC Committee of Overseas Vietnamese, who said many complain to his agency about the bullying and say they are confused about Vietnamese laws.
They bring wine, medicines, and foods to gift their relatives, and sometimes their goods are cleared but other times not.
Phuong said he once transited in Taiwan on his way from the US to Vietnam, and he heard many overseas Vietnamese remind each another to place money in their passports “otherwise you will be in trouble.”
Open to complaints
Tuoi Tre quoted Lai Xuan Thanh, chief of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam, as saying that passengers can file complaints with relevant agencies through many available channels.
Lich of customs said an inspection team is tasked with cracking down on misconduct by customs officers.
People can call the inspectors at 0988315858 (Mr. Binh), 0913242611 (Mr. Huy) and 0925267777 (Mr. Lich), he said.
A Tan Son Nhat Airport manager said the airport also has hotlines and opinion boxes to receive passengers’ complaints, adding that surveillance cameras have been installed at luggage checking areas.
Passengers who file complaints can demand to see footage, he added.