Police have detained a restaurant owner while they investigate claims that he tried to shake down the Tan Hiep Phat Beverage Group for US$23,425 after finding a fly in his energy drink.
Vo Van Minh, 35, of Tien Giang Province will be held for four months while he is investigated for "extortion," according to Dinh Van Thanh of the provincial police department.
The crime carries a jail terms of between 12-20 years in cases that involved property valued at VND500 million or more.
On December 3, 2014, Minh found a fly in a bottle of the company's Number One--a sweetened, yellow energy drink--and asked the company to send someone to meet with him.
During his initial meeting with the company, the rice restaurant owner demanded VND1 billion and threatened to notify the media, by printing and distributing 5,000 leaflets about the case.
Minh agreed to half his initial demand after meeting three times with the company.
On January 27, Minh was arrested as he attempted to collect his hush money at a café.
The case made headlines on local media and prompted widespread controversy.
Public opinion has turned sharply against Tan Hiep Phat, whom many believe deliberately entrapped one of their customers.
According to Attorney Tran Van Hieu of the Ho Chi Minh City-based Nguoi Ngheo (poor people) law firm, Minh had the right to contact the company and inform them of his plan to publicize his experience of purchasing an unhygienic product.
“The company set a trap when it pretended to agree to pay this huge compensation settlement, while working with the police on the back end,” Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted him as saying.
Nguyen Van Viet, chairman of the Vietnam Beer, Alcohol Beverage Association, said the company should make the existing consumer protection regulations clear to people like Minh, who clearly have little understanding of the law.
“A business should not ‘promise’ consumers that it will resolve such problems,” he said.
Phan Thi Viet Thu, deputy chairwoman of the Consumer Rights Protection Association, said her agency has logged numerous reports on poor beverage quality.
“Consumers often want to be compensated but we tell them they have to prove they've suffered damages. Normally, consumers feel entitled to compensation on general principal and demand unreasonably high amounts,” she said.
Local media have reported many instances in which consumers have complained about Tan Hiep Phat’s low quality beverages, including Dr. Thanh and Number One, and Soya--a sweet soymilk.
In 2009, relevant authorities found nearly 67 tons of expired flavoring in the company's warehouses in Binh Duong Province and HCMC.
A LARGER PATTERN OF ENTRAPMENT
Tan Hiep Phat's recent entrapment of the man who found "a VND500-million fly” in his drink is actually part of a larger pattern, VTC news reported.
In 2012, Tran Quoc Tuan of HCMC opened a bottle of the company's Khong Do (zero degree) green tea to find a cockroach inside.
During subsequent negotiations, company representatives offered him 2-4 cases of the product, but the 27-year-old silversmith demanded VND50 million in cash.
At their final meeting, Tuan and the company jointly-signed a document awarding Tuan VND50 million in cash for the bottle and his silence, Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted a company source as saying.
In the document, the company also pledged not to cause difficulties for Tuan.
Tuan was arrested immediately after signing the document which police seized and used as evidence against him.
He was sentenced to three years for blackmail on July 17, 2013.