Greasy highways: serial bribing gets trucks past checkpoints

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Bribing traffic cops to get away with driving overloaded trucks or trucks carrying illegal products is common practice among drivers on highways and roads across the country.

A Tuoi Tre report says the situation is more serious in north-central provinces.

At around 8 p.m. on July 31, Tuoi Tre reporters were onboard a truck carrying timber from the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak to Hanoi. When the truck arrived at a National Highway 1A section in Thanh Hoa Province, two traffic police officers stopped it.

The officers had previously parked a patrol car next to a filling station. Under the veranda of the station, another young traffic policeman was sitting by a table with a tea pot on it.

As soon as the truck driver stopped, a police officer pointed his baton at the body of the truck, asking: "What is inside?"

"Jackfruit timber," the 48-year-old driver named Tinh answered. The officer pulled out a flashlight to check. A man (who seems to be his assistant) jumped on the truck, carefully checking every timber container with the flashlight.

Guessing he could not get away with the timber, Tinh inserted two VND200,000 notes into a notebook and gave it to Hai, the police officer who was sitting by the table in the filling station.

Hai opened the notebook and shouted: "You want to pay just so much?"

The assistant named Doi, came to the table and told Hai: "It's go wood (a protected species), not jackfruit."

Hai said briefly: "Five million."

Then followed a prolonged bargaining process in which Tinh tried to explain that he could not afford the "bribe" while Hai insisted he must pay it in order to be let off.

Eventually, Tinh emptied all of his pockets but collected only VND1.1 million. Hai threatened to take the truck to a forest management station.

Tinh collected his driving license and truck register certificate, and asked  Hai to allow him to pawn the papers.

"Could you please keep my papers? I will come back early tomorrow morning and pay you the rest," he told Hai.

Hai agreed, adding that VND5 million was still a light fine. He told Tinh to give the papers to Doi.

"You pawn the papers, you'll have to pay an additional VND500,000 as fee," Doi said.

Doi gave Tinh a sheet of paper and told him to write down a promisory note about the pawning.

Hai gave Tinh his mobile number, saying it would be useful next time when Tinh wanted to pass the check points.

"What if the officer on duty is not you?" Tinh asked.

"Then pay VND1 million only," Hai said.

When Tinh asked Hai how many officers named Hai there were in the team, Hai said there were three, with him being the youngest.

It continues

After the truck hit the road 30 minutes later, another check point came into sight.

A traffic police officer, who did not wear a name tag, was busy checking a truck. He opened a notebook given by the truck driver and saw a VND100,000 note.

"A whole timber truck and just VND100,000, what the...!" he grumbled.

Tinh, still upset about the VND5 million bribe, suddenly said: "Mr Hai told me that I will have to pay little, because I've already paid five."

The officer was dumbstruck. "Five hundred or five million?"

"Five million, not less," Tinh replied.

Seeing the officer stilll a bit suspicious, Tinh gave him Hai's mobile phone number. The officer pulled out his own phone and and called Hai.

"Hey man, how come you make a good bargain for yourself only? Let your co-workers earn something, too," he said.

"And bloody hell, how can you tell the drivers to pay little here?"

After he hung up, the officer reluctantly took the VND100,000 note from Tinh before letting the truck pass.

The truck made its way to Dong Anh wood village in Hanoi. Tinh later called Hai, informing him that he would come back to have his papers back and pay the "debt."

On August 1, Tinh and the (disguised) reporters got back to the check point. Hai was not there.

A police officer asked them what they came for. After Tinh told him the story, he said: "Five million is too expensive. We usually take VND400,000-500,000 only, for timber trucks.

Ten minutes later, Doi showed up. Tinh asked him to call Hai, persuading him to cut down the fine.

"I have no authority here," Doi replied.

"Then why did you jump on to my truck yesterday?" Tinh asked.

"Don't play with me. I checked the timber, what do you want to do with me?" Doi replied.

"You wan to mess with me? I can beat you up right now. You agreed yesterday, how can you challenge me now?" he said.

Tinh could not argue and gave Doi the money.

When he asked Doi to return the promissory note he had signed, Doi said he had torn it up.

"I will not leave without the paper," Tinh said.

Doi lost his temper and started beating Tinh on the back and head and tore his shirt up. Several police officers stood and watched, doing nothing.

When Tinh called Hai to report the beating, they soon picked up a fight. Hai swore, threatened and yelled at Tinh.

"Wait and see," Hai said before hanging up.

After the trip, Tuoi Tre reporters returned to Thanh Hoa Province on trucks several times. They found hat most truck drivers complained about was true; that traffic police officers in Thanh Hoa were more corrupt than those in other provinces.

They were also more rude, most of them swearing, threatening and abusing drivers who do not agree to pay or bargained to have the fines cut down.

Corruption is also rampant among traffic police in Thua Thien-Hue, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Da Nang, Quang Ngai, Ha Nam and Hanoi, according to the Tuoi Tre report.

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