Police apologize to man for investigating a theft for 20 years

By Hoang Phuong, Thanh Nien News

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A police officer in Long An Province's Chau Thanh District shakes hands with Phan Van La (L) after the police apologized to him for putting him under investigation for too long. Photo: Hoang Phuong 

Law enforcement authorities in the Mekong Delta province of Long An Wednesday apologized to a man for placing him under investigation for theft for more than 20 years.
Phan Van La, 48, was also paid VND300 million (US$13,338) as compensation for the mental anguish he and his family had suffered.
On July 21, 1991, La’s brothers Phan Van Chau, then 13, and Phan Van Tan, 15, were arrested by police in Chau Thanh District’s Hiep Thanh Commune on suspicion of stealing electric wires.
The pair later told a court they were beaten and forced by investigators to admit they stole the wires and La masterminded the theft.
La was arrested three days later.
In late 1991 the Chau Thanh District People’s Court sentenced him to four years in jail for theft though he had consistently denied his guilt.
He appealed the verdict.
A year later the Long An Province People’s Court overturned the verdict and ordered a fresh investigation into the case.
The district police asked for his custody for two months for questioning, but the provincial prosecutors rejected the demand and gave him bail.
La was released but technically still a suspect. The district police did not actually investigate anything or conclude if La was involved in the theft.
It was only in September 2013 the police dropped the case after La filed a complaint against them for the prolonged investigation.
Under Vietnamese law, the statute of limitations kicks in after five years in case of “less serious” crimes and 10, 15 and 20 for “serious”, “very serious” and “particularly serious” crimes.
La said during the 22 years his children were isolated at school since people believed he was a criminal, and his family gained a bad reputation. He demanded that the police pay VND490 million ($21,785) for his material losses and mental anguish.
But it took the police another two years to apologize to him and pay the compensation.

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