A self-proclaimed psychic was sentenced to life in prison on Friday for faking 105 sets of remains of dead soldiers for money rewards in a massive scam that rocked the nation two years ago.
The People’s Court in the central province of Quang Tri found Nguyen Van Thuy, 56, guilty of "swindling" and "interfering with graves."
It said Thuy and his five accomplices have committed the "unacceptable" crimes many times, exploiting families of dead soldiers.
The accomplices, including his wife Man Thi Duyen and his brother Nguyen Van Hoanh, were sentenced to between five and 25 years on the same charges.
Vu Duc Chung, 69, the keeper of a cemetery in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum, received a one-year suspended sentence for assisting the group.
All defendants were also ordered to return a total of VND8 billion (US$359,000) to the victims. His daughter has returned VND100 million.
According to the indictment, Thuy and his wife began to dig up remains of unidentified dead soldiers at cemeteries since 2008.
They then approached families of dead soldiers, claiming that Thuy could help them find their kin. The group later moved the unidentified war dead, together with fake belongings, into fake graves.
They also managed to win support from the Vietnam Bank for Social Policies. The bank reportedly paid Thuy VND73 million (US$3,400) for each set of remains. He received a total reward of more than VND7 billion.
Thuy was arrested on July 25, 2013 in Quang Tri Province during an excavation of nine sets of fake remains that he claimed to be of Vietnamese soldiers.
Subsequent investigation led to the arrest of six others. They were also accused of cheating eight families out of VND1 billion.
The Military Forensic Institute has concluded that a majority of the remains claimed to be of missing soldiers were actually stolen remains in cemeteries and pig and cat bones.
Thuy pleaded guilty on Friday. “Please forgive me," he said.
It is estimated that the remains of around 500,000 soldiers have not been found or identified in Vietnam.
Families across the country continue to search for them, using both official channels and mediums, though controversies over the reliability of telepathy have been making headlines for years.