Dried fish traders accuse police of extortion in northern Vietnam

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Locals gather at Thanh Hoa Province police station to complain about "unreasonable" stops of their cargo trucks. Photo by Ngoc Minh

Around 70 people from a northern commune surrounded a police station Thursday, claiming their cargo trucks had been seized without just cause.

Guards at Thanh Hoa Province police station closed its doors to stop the crowds from entering, but people managed to climb over the walls to present their grievances.

The people of Hai Thanh Commune said they have been having their trucks seized ever since they stopped using a local man's transport service.

Locals said the commune has been selling dried anchovies 1,400 to 6,400 tons a month nationwide and to China for a long time now, hiring container trucks from a nearby bus station.

But more than a year ago, a manager at the station, Dung, asked them to rent trucks directly from him, demanding they pay him an extra VND6.2 million (US$294) per shipment, which he said was needed to bribe police and customs officials.

Commune traders soon found other transport services outside the station and cut ties with Dung. That's when the problems began.

"We suspect that Dung had tipped off the police so they could stop our trucks, to make us feel the need to go back to Dung," an unidentified local said.

In the latest incident, two container trucks were stopped by economic police officers Wednesday, and as with previous occurrences, the police did not provide a reason for stopping them.

They seized the vehicles' registration papers, the drivers' cell phones and the keys to the trucks, leaving the fish to spoil.

They asked for the phone numbers of the shipment's owners to summon them.

"It's like extortion rather than punishing a violation," another local said.

Thursday's protest prompted the province's deputy police chief Nguyen Van Binh to order his subordinates to release the trucks.

Binh said he would launch an investigation to find out if his staff has been colluding with Dung.

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