Latest investigation fails to get "labor hero' off the hook

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A fresh probe into controversial public corruption charges has failed to exonerate a woman that was once celebrated as a national hero.

Colonel Le Viet Hung, vice director of the Can Tho Police Department, said that his team has forwarded the latest investigation results to the accused, Tran Ngoc Suong, former director of state-run Song Hau Farm, and four of her subordinates.

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

She was named a "Labor Hero" by the government in 2000.

Both Suong and her father Tran Ngoc Hoang former director of Song Hau Farm were named Labor Heroes by the government for transforming a vast flooded area near the Hau River into a modern farm, creating jobs for thousands of locals.

The case began in April 2008 when police launched an investigation into accusations of wrongdoing at the collective farm outside the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho.

Police claimed that Suong had established an illegal fund containing VND9 billion (currently US$431,000). They further accused her of selling state property and pocketing VND1.1 billion.

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

Suong herself was given eight years.

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

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

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Following the announcement, more than 100 members of one of Vietnam's most successful farming collectives drafted a letter to the Party Unit in Can Tho expressing their wish to serve jail time in place of Suong.

The popular leader maintained her innocence and, last April, Vietnam's central prosecutor found the investigation leading to Suong's conviction to be tainted by procedural violations.

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

On Tuesday (February 22), Colonel Hung announced that his team discovered that the slush fund contained a total of VND10.1 billion (currently US$483,716).

Hung added that a review of Suong's allegedly illegal land sale revealed that she had only taken VND300 million. Hung claimed that the alleged embezzlement will be thoroughly reviewed in yet another, separate, investigation.

Following Hung's announcement Suong told Tuoi Tre that all of the investigation results are false.

Since the case began, several senior leaders have raised similar objections.

Former vice president Nguyen Thi Binh called Suong's prison sentence unjust, adding that the alleged "slush fund" was actually a welfare fund for the collective she oversaw.

Several other high-ranking officials have also come out in defense of Suong.

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