Former official gets life in Japanese graft case

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A court in Ho Chi Minh City Monday handed down a life sentence to a former high-ranking beauracrat for taking US$262,000 in bribes from a Japanese firm in 2003.


Huynh Ngoc Si, 53, who was in charge of the East-West Highway Project between 2000 and 2008, was also ordered to pay back the money to the state.


According to the hearing that began last Friday, Si, also former Vice Director of the HCMC Department of Transportation, helped Tokyo-based Consultants International (PCI) win development contracts in exchange for kickbacks.


The court found that Si also jockeyed to raise the foreign experts' salaries.


In exchange, Si received $262,000 on May 28, 2003 from PCI's former leaders at the Project Management Board's office, according to the proceedings.


Si's violations, especially the act of taking bribes, has tarnished the image of the Vietnamese government abroad in addition to flaunting the country's efforts to fight corruption in accordance with the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the HCMC People's Court charged at the hearing.


He was further upbraided for hindering the government's strategy of seeking partners in ODA loans. The scandal led Japan to suspend development assistance to Vietnam from December, 2008 to February 2009.


The court proposed that the Ministry of Public Security's investigators and the People's Supreme Procuracy conclude their investigation into the allegations that Si also took bribes from PCI on six additional occasions.


Japanese PCI officials brought Si's wrongdoing to light while they were standing trial in Tokyo on November 11, 2009. During the proceedings, they claimed to have offered a total of $820,000 in bribes.


So far, Si, who is currently serving a six-year jail term for "abuse of power," has only stood trial for his acceptance of $262,000 in bribes, because the investigatory deadline had passed.

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