Scores of drivers roam the streets of southern Vietnam with bogus papers, a Thanh Nien investigation has found.
In April, the government issued an order looking to root out corruption in the issuance of vehicle certificates.
The decision noted that a group of corrupt officials were certifying poor-quality vehicles that either violated the state's emission standards or ran a high risk of breaking down.
Following the decision, the owners of junk vehicles began seeking counterfeit vehicle certificates to avoid paying bribes altogether.
The certificates, whose full name translates roughly to "certification of vehicle quality, technical safety and environmental soundness," describe the vehicle’s technical specifications and age.
A Thanh Nien reporter, posing as the owner of a fleet of dilapidated trucks, was introduced to a dealer for the service, named N.V.V.
The broker, a driver from Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, said he paid VND4 million ($188) as a familiar customer, but a new one has to pay VND5-7 million ($236-330).
“I had asked him to do dozens of vehicles,” the driver said.
On the phone, V. agreed to charge the undercover reporter a discounted price of VND4.5 million ($212) to produce a forged certificate for a truck whose certification had expired six months ago.
He asked for a photo of the truck, a copy of the expired certificate and told the reporter to meet him at his place in Dong Nai Province, just 35 kilometers to the northeast of Ho Chi Minh City.
During the meeting on August 16, V., the forger, said he'd been in the trade for over a decade, selling fake certificates to drivers in HCMC and neighboring provinces like Tay Ninh, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Dong Nai and Binh Thuan.
He said the counterfeits were prepared in Tien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta.
After several delays, V. met the reporters again to hand off the fake certificate and the fake stickers, which let officers know that a vehicle has been inspected.
The certificate carried the stamp and signature from the Long An Vehicle Registration Center in the Mekong Delta’s Long An Province, with an expiry date of February 15, 2015 and closely resembled the real ones.
Another forger named H. in Dong Nai offered to whip up a fake vehicle certificate in an hour.
A local man introduced Thanh Nien reporters to H. after the reporters asked about obtaining a certificate for their four-seater car.
The reporters claimed they'd failed to pass an inspection at the Dong Nai Registration Center.
H., a man of 40 something, usually waits at a park some 200 meters from the center for potential clients and offers forgeries for VND4 million per vehicle.
He said he also forges registrations, which an owner must obtain after buying a vehicle or changing its license plate to prove its legal ownership.
“I can produce forgeries for any province. The price for the registration paper is VND7 million, and the quality certificate VND4 million.”
Though the average person can hardly tell the difference between a fake and a real vehicle certificate, the police can, according to several vehicles owners who used the forgeries.
Nguyen Van Q. said he was seeking a certificate at a HCMC registration center in early June when a strange man approached and offered to produce a quick forgery.
Q. took him up on the offer but when he was pulled over in July, the cops quickly detected the forgery and fined him.
Another HCMC resident, Nguyen Thi Dieu Th., told a similar story.
Th. said she sent her driver to apply for a certificate.
The driver agreed to take a fake paper from someone for the price of VND6 million to save time on the bureaucratic process.
But the car was pulled over and the driver was busted a month later by traffic cops in Binh Duong.
Traffic police in Binh Duong said they'd pulled over 11 drivers with faux vehicle certificates in August. Their colleagues in Dong Nai busted six such cases in July and early August. A dozen fake certificates have been confiscated in Ba Ria-Vung Tau since early August.
Nguyen Do Vu, chief traffic inspector in Binh Duong, said they fine drivers with fake quality certificates VND5 million each.
The papers are then seized and the offender's driver’s license is revoked for a month, Vu said.
Road accidents are not new to Vietnam, especially on buses travelling late at night.
Narrow highways, poorly maintained vehicles and drivers' disregard for road safety and traffic rules are often the cause of most fatalities.
Last year, there were 29,385 traffic accidents, killing 9,369 people and injuring about 29,500 others. In 2012, traffic accidents killed 9,424 people nationwide.