Police in the north-central province of Nghe An seized the man who made it his life's work to manufacture and sell computer chips that allowed fuel pump operators to cheat their customers.
Colonel Nguyen Xuan Thiem, chief investigator of economic crimes for the Nghe An Police, said Tan Le Duc, a 35-year-old Hanoian, is being investigated for “illegally accessing others’ digital devices,” Tuoi Tre newspaper reported on Monday.
The crime is punishable by up to 12 years in jail, depending on the profits gained and the damage caused.
Police say Duc studied information technology in Hanoi for three years before he went to work for a gas pump manufacturer for five years.
In 2009, he quit and opened a company that provided doctored chips to fuel companies in Nghe An and nearby provinces including Thanh Hoa, Ninh Binh and Nam Dinh, Tuoi Tre said.
Police arrested Duc at a hotel in the central resort town of Nha Trang on November 14 after arresting his customer Nguyen Son Hai, 41, in Nghe An on November 5, the paper said.
Nghe An police joined their colleagues in Hanoi and investigators from the Ministry of Public Security to search Duc’s three Hanoi homes on the night of November 13.
The team found no trace of him.
The next morning, a source tipped off the police that Duc had taken a taxi to Noi Bai airport, where he reportedly flew to Nha Trang.
A photo provided by Nghe An Police shows an example of the chips that a Hanoi mastermind provided gas stations in northern Vietnam for the past six years to skim 4 and 11.6 percent off the top of each transaction at their gas pumps.
A Hanoi team flew down that afternoon where they met with local cops who helped them search all the hotels and guest houses until they spotted Phu at a hotel on Tran Phu Street.
An officer disguised as a receptionist knocked on his door at 10PM and waited for five minutes for Duc to open the door.
Then a team rushed in and cuffed him.
Nghe An police are investigating his alleged accomplices, including computer programmer Le Van Toan, 34, who surrendered on November 12, and Bui The Ai, 45, whom they arrested on November 15.
A dozen gas station managers who allegedly installed the chips to skim between 4 and 11.6 percent off the top of each transaction are also being investigated.
The Nghe An Science and Technology Department has shut down their stations for a month pending the results of an investigation.
Nguyen Manh Ha, the department's deputy chief inspector, told Tuoi Tre the retailers will be fined between VND70-100 million (US$3,290-4,700).
Police say the racket began over six years ago, selling the chips for VND5 million ($235) each.
They have confiscated over 200 microchips and the machines used to produce them.