Labor hero charged with embezzlement, again

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Prosecutors in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho have once again charged Labor Hero Tran Ngoc Suong, former director of the state-owned Song Hau collective farm, with embezzlement.

Suong, 62, and four of her subordinates Truong Hong Nhung, Dang The Quoc Hung, Nguyen Van Son and Hoang Thi Binh were officially charged with running a slush fund by the Co Do District People's Procuracy on Wednesday.

The case began in April 2008 when police launched an investigation into accusations of wrongdoing at Song Hau in Co Do District.

Police claimed that Suong had established an illegal fund containing VND9 billion (currently US$432,000). They further accused her of selling state property and pocketing VND1.1 billion.

Suong, for her part, maintained she was innocent of any wrongdoing.

In August 2009, the Co Do District People's Court convicted Suong and her subordinates of establishing an illegal slush fund.

Suong herself was sentenced to eight years in jail.

Four of Suong's subordinates, including her deputy, chief accountant, cashier and accountant, were sentenced to between 18 months probation to six years imprisonment.

Suong lodged an appeal against the verdict, saying it was unlawful and unjust.

In November 2009, the Can Tho City People's Court upheld the district court's sentence and ordered Suong to return VND4.3 billion (currently US$206,000) to the government.

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Suong maintained her innocence and, in April 2010, Vietnam's central prosecutor found the investigation leading to her conviction  tainted by procedural violations.

In May 2010, the Supreme People's Court nullified the verdict and called for a fresh investigation into the charges.

In February 2011, investigators of the Can Tho Police Department maintained the embezzlement charges against Suong and her subordinates.

This time, they said Suong was responsible for establishing the illegal fund worth more than VND10 billion and for spending VND5 billion out of the fund between 2001 and 2007.

The Can Tho City People's Procuracy later authorized the prosecutors in Co Do District to formally charge Suong and her subordinates.

The high-profile case has attracted controversy ever since the investigation began in 2008, with several senior leaders weighing in.

Former vice president Nguyen Thi Binh called Suong's prison sentence unjust, adding that the slush fund was actually a welfare fund for the collective she'd administered. Several other high-ranking officials also spoke out in defense of Suong.

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