Four men to stand trial for blackmailing traffic cops

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Five suspended for acceding to blackmailers' demands

A Tuoi Tre cartoon shows a man filming traffic cops' violations  

Four men who recorded on camera violations by five traffic cops in pulling over vehicles in Thua Thien Hue Province and demanded VND200 million (US$9,500) in exchange for their silence will stand trial for extracting property.

Nguyen Thanh Hai, deputy head of the province's Prosecutors' Office, told the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that his agency has submitted documents to the provincial People's Court to open a trial. 

According to the indictment, Dinh Ngoc Trung, 29, a small trader in Ho Chi Minh City, Truong Ngoc Vu, 26, a driver in Da Nang City, and Huynh Ngoc Tho, 28, a Da Nang resident conspired to blackmail the traffic cops.

Police are tracking down Ngo Quoc Bao, who is believed to have hatched the scheme.

At around 3 a.m. on April 19, 2010, the four men drove two motorbikes from Da Nang to Hue and stopped at a section of the National Highway 1A near Phuoc Tuong Hill in Thua Thien Hue's Phu Loc District.

Trung took a camera and hid in an abandoned house on the roadside and the others returned to Da Nang.

Trung waited until 6 a.m. when a group of five traffic police officers led by Lt. Col. Pham Ngoc Vinh set a temporary checkpoint nearby.

He filmed the activities of the police and when they left, called Bao to pick him up and take him back to Da Nang.

Bao then copied the film to an USB and had it delivered a day later in an envelope with their cell phone number to Lt. Col. Pham Van Phong of Thua Thien Hue Traffic Police Division. Phong gave it to Lt. Col. Vinh after seeing the latter in the film.

Later in the day, Vinh called the number and a man claiming to be journalist Quoc Phong threatened to upload the film on the Internet, publish it in newspapers or hand it over to Vinh's superiors if a payment of VND200 million was not made.

After several rounds of negotiations, the amount was lowered to VND120 million, with the cops agreeing to pay VND24 million each.

On April 21, 2010, Vinh transferred the money into an account as demanded. However, two days later, the men ordered him to transfer another VND120 million into the account. This time, the cops refused.

On May 4, 2010, a man calling himself Quoc Phong informed Vinh's office about the case and had a xe om (motorbike taxi) driver deliver the film. The five police officers admitted to being blackmailed and the case was reported to the provincial Police Department.

On March 5, 2012, Trung, Vu and Tho were arrested and an investigation launched.

What was filmed?

Investigators say there is no evidence that the five police officers had taken bribes from the drivers they pulled over.

However, the cops violated procedures in pulling over vehicles, including stopping several vehicles at a same time, shaking hands and hugging drivers and smoking, the investigators said.

Disciplinary measures have been taken against all five cops. Vinh has been transferred to the criminal verdict enforcement and judicial support agency. Lt. Col. Tran Hai Van and Major Tran Van Van have been censured and transferred to the administrative section of the provincial traffic police division.

Major Bui Manh Hung has been transferred to the Phu Van District Police Division and second lieutenant Tran Chau Nguyen has been censured.

On Monday, Colonel Pham Van Duc, deputy director of the Thua Thien Hue Police Department, said his agency has also suspended the police officers for giving money to the blackmailers. The suspension will remain in force pending further measures, he said.

Speaking to Tuoi Tre on March 15, Vinh said the blackmailers were very aggressive and kept pressurizing them to transfer the money, threatening to publicize the film if they failed to oblige.

"We agreed to pay the blackmailers VND120 million because we were afraid that the exposure of the images of our procedural violations will lead to censures, transfers and affect our prestige as well as that of our families," he said.

Tuoi Tre reported on March 18 that hundreds of readers had asked that the film be released to the public. Several experts had also said the same thing, it said.

Nguyen Van Thanh of the Thua Thien Hue Bar Association said he doubted the official story.

"Why did they agree to pay VND120 million instead of reporting the matter to superiors? The traffic police division is a law enforcement agency. They know that blackmailing is a crime, but they still negotiated and give them money," he said.

"It is not convincing that they were afraid and gave VND120 million just for fear that their procedural violations would be exposed, as the indictment says."

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