Accusations that a senior government official used a bogus foreign degree to pad his résumé throw light on a thriving fraud industry
A Vietnamese army veteran holds a bag of documents as he tours a US education fair in Hanoi in April. Many communal government officials over the age of 30 have not enjoyed the benefits of a good education system due to the aftermath of the Vietnam War that ended in 1975 and had to buy bogus high school diplomas to satisfy a nationwide program that requires all government officials to graduate high school, said an official who declined to be named.
It is unclear whether or not official investigators will look into the case of Vu Viet Ngoan.
The 52-year-old new chairman of the National Financial Supervisory Committee, appointed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on July 22, has rejected allegations that his doctorate degree is a phony from a cheap US diploma mill.
Ngoan, who was deputy chairman of the National Assembly's Economy Committee before being appointed to the financial supervisory committee, was also deputy director of the Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam (Vietcombank) between 1996 and 1998.
However, local netizens say that his degree in finance was granted by LaSalle University in Louisiana a diploma mill operated by Thomas James Kirk II, who was indicted for fraud in 1996.
The accredited La Salle University in Philadelphia (with a space between "La" and "Salle") does not offer a degree in finance or economics, and therefore could not be the school at which he studied, they said.
Ngoan said he enrolled in a long-distance learning program at a US-based school in 1996, but has yet to clarify whether he claims to have received his Ph.D which he says he obtained in 1998 from La Salle or LaSalle.
Either way, it is clear that bogus degrees have become a major problem in Vietnam.
Last month, an inspection by the Party Unit in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang found 140 government officials and Party members using fraudulent degrees. Most of them used fake high school diplomas.
Local authorities have taken disciplinary measures against dozens of officials found with fraudulent credentials, and some have been dismissed.
In October last year, police in Long An Province, also in the Mekong Delta, said they found more than 100 communal officials using fake high school diplomas.
In March, police pressed charges against five local men for having fraudulent credentials, and another man from Dong Nai Province, 35 kilometers to the northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, was charged for selling fake degrees to the officials. Further investigations are still underway, police say.
In June, a Hanoi court sentenced 29-year-old Dau Xuan Thao of the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong to a year in jail for fraud after he had tried to sell bogus degree certificates online.
Thao didn't supply a single degree, but he managed to swindle nearly 1,000 people with his ploy.
A government official in Long An who wished to remain anonymous said many communal government officials over the age of 30 have not enjoyed the benefits of a good education system due to the aftermath of the Vietnam War that ended in April 1975.
"They were sent to study at night classes but many failed to graduate. They had to buy bogus high school diplomas to satisfy a nationwide program that requires all government officials to graduate high school," he said, adding that most newer graduates of younger generations don't want to work at communal governmental agencies.
Prior to the nationwide election for National Assembly members, Vo Le Tuan, chairman of the Long An branch of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, said several communes in Tan Thanh District didn't have enough government job applicants after many were found using fake degrees.
Dao Trong Thi, chairman of the National Assembly's Culture, Education, Youth and Children Committee, blamed the problem on lenient punishment against such violations. He also said regulators weren't keeping watch over the issue.
"Inspections in a single province found hundreds of people using bogus degrees," he said. "However, this is a small number because we would find even more with stricter inspections."
Truong Anh Tu of the Hanoi Bar Association agreed that regulators had taken their eye off the ball and that punishments were too light.
Though the Penal Code punishes both the users of the fake degrees and their suppliers, not many users have been prosecuted, he said.
On July 28, the Party Unit in Thua Thien-Hue Province's Huong Tra District demoted Truong Van Dung, secretary of the district's Huong Toan Commune, for using a fake diploma.
According to VTCNews, Dung had superimposed his own photo and name on another man's high school diploma.
In mid-June, Dong Xuan Dien, chairman of Dai Hop Commune in the northern port city of Hai Phong was demoted for using a phony high school diploma that he had borrowed from a local resident.
In another case, authorities in the Mekong Delta's Soc Trang Province have pledged to take action against 284 local governmental officials accused of using fake degrees, including 107 people in the education sector.