Dead Kumho worker not implicated in theft, may have been whistleblower

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After nearly four months of investigation, Binh Duong Province detectives have yet to find evidence that a 30-year-old worker who died in police custody was involved in a theft at the Kumho Tire Factory in Ben Cat District.

Instead, they have arrested 15 other workers and issued arrest warrants against two more, all of whom are accused of stealing a total of 371 tires and 14.47 tons of latex from the company over the past year. The total value of the haul is estimated at VND1.5 billion (US$72,185).

But not only has Nguyen Cong Nhut a Kumho worker who died in police custody after his arrest on allegations he was involved in the theft not been implicated in the crime by any evidence, but new clues have also emerged indicating that he might have actually blown the whistle on the thieves.

The case began in August last year when the Kumho Tire Factory found that 50 tires had been stolen and reported the case to Ben Cat District police.

On April 21, eight months after the company's report, Ben Cat police summoned Nhut for interrogation. Four days later, he was found dead at the police station.

Police said Nhut had committed suicide by hanging himself with the cord of a mobile phone charger. They also produced a suicide note they claimed was written by Nhut, but his wife, Nguyen Thi Thanh Tuyen, 28, later said that it was not written in her husband's handwriting.

On April 28, Tuyen submitted a petition to local authorities arguing that her husband had been beaten to death while in police custody.

A day later, she gave media organizations tapes and voice recordings of her conversations with police major Nguyen Thanh Phu, one of the investigators in the case. The recordings revealed that Phu had asked her for sex in exchange for helping her husband.

On May 19, Phu was demoted from major to captain. Phu told the provincial police leaders that he was just "joking" when soliciting sex from Tuyen.

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Tran Dinh Trien of the Hanoi Bar Association, Nhut's family lawyer, has said that the punishment for Phu was unacceptably lenient. He said Tuyen's tapes were enough to charge Phu with soliciting bribes and attempted rape.

Binh Duong police were investigating the case until early June, when the Supreme People's Procuracy Vietnam's highest state prosecution office took over. But the Procuracy has yet to deliver any conclusion.

On July 28, major general Vo Thanh Duc, director of the Binh Duong Police Department, told a session of the provincial People's Council, the local legislature, that he would no longer allow Phu to continue to work as a police officer.

On Tuesday, Tuyen said she would continue to complain about her husband's death. She said she had not received any replies from the Binh Duong Police Department.

She also said that her husband had in fact attempted to notify authorities of the crimes at Kumho.

While Tuyen and her lawyer worked with the investigators, Tuyen found a letter that Nhut wrote during his detainment that implicated Tran Van Toan, one of the Kumho workers recently arrested, in the crime, the Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborer) newspaper reported Tuesday.

Tuyen also said Nhut had conducted his own investigation. He found a shop he believed was buying the stolen tires and had reported it to Kumho company leaders, she said.

While state prosecutors are investigating whether Phu was involved in the death of Nhut, a similar case has recently unfolded in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan.

On August 15, major general Huynh The Ky, director of Ninh Thuan Police Department, said police detained sergeant major Le Khac Sau of Phan Rang Thap Cham Town on suspicion of beating a detainee to death.

Sau, who had been suspended on August 9, will be detained for two months pending further investigations into allegations that he was responsible for the death of Tran Gon, 27, of Ninh Hai District.

Gon's wife said her husband had been arrested for stealing money from a donation box at a local pagoda on August 7.

She rushed to the police station but was not allowed to enter, though she could hear her husband's screams. She was allowed in half an hour later only to find Gon unconscious and bleeding from his head.

Gon was then taken to a local hospital where he died from his wounds a day later.

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