Police custody death takes sordid turn

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The death of a 33-year-old in police custody last month turned murkier with the deceased's wife claiming that an investigator tried to blackmail her into sleeping with him.

Lawyers say there is prima facie evidence of irregularities and illegal actions in the case, but the police have so far only suspended the cop pending verification of accusations.

On May 1, Binh Duong provincial police temporarily suspended Major Nguyen Thanh Phu of Ben Cat Town's investigation division.

"If violations are found, the investigation division will launch an official probe into the case," senior lieutenant colonel Pham Xuan Truong of the Binh Duong Police Department told Thanh Nien.

On April 21, Ben Cat police detained 33-year-old Nguyen Cong Nhut, head of the finished products management division at Kumho Tire factory in the southern province's My Phuoc Industrial Park, for investigating the theft of 56 tires since 2008.

The case was first handled by Ben Cat Town police but transferred to the provincial police after the lost property was valued at above VND7 billion (US$340,300). Major Nguyen Thanh Phu of the town police was asked by the provincial police to join the investigation team.

Nhut died at the Ben Cat District police station on April 25, the fifth day of the investigation. Police claimed he committed suicide by hanging himself from a window frame with the cord of a cell phone charger at around 6 a.m.

At 1:30 p.m. the same day, police informed the family of his death. Nhut's wife, Nguyen Thi Thanh Tuyen, also a Kumho employee, said police gave her a copy of his "suicide note." She alleges that the note is not in her husband's handwriting.


Cop suspended following seduction accusations
Family requests probe into man's suicide in custody

In the note, Nhut purportedly said he was committing suicide because he was afraid he would go to jail for up to 20 years and because he was suffering from several diseases. It also praised investigators for being kind to him.

Tuyen submitted a complaint to local authorities, citing several irregularities, including the fact that she was not informed about her husband's arrest during four days of detention and investigation. She'd only heard about the detention from her colleagues.

She also said that there were bruises on Nhut's hands, abdomen, thighs and testicles as well as black spots on his feet.

She said Major Phu had called her a total of 11 times during the investigation, suggesting that she go to a hotel with him. When she refused, Phu told her to sell a plot of land to have money to handle the case, she said.

Tuyen said she'd recorded telephone conversations with him after consulting with her colleagues.

One exchange, according to record files obtained by the Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper, went something like this:

- Tuyen: "Can we meet at a café? I would like to ask about my husband.

- Phu: "We can't meet at such places. Let's meet at a hotel."

- Tuyen: "Oh my god! You are saying that again."

In another conversation, Phu apparently gets a bit more explicit:

- Phu: Now only you can save your husband.

- Tuyen: Why?

- Phu: Because I insist on having what I want.

On May 2, Nhut's family asked lawyer Tran Dinh Trien of Hanoi's Vi Dan Law Office to represent them.

Trien told Thanh Nien that there was enough evidence showing illegalities in Nhut's arrest. Moreover, the bruises on Nhut's body indicate that he might not have committed suicide, he said.

"Where did he get four pages of paper to write the suicide note? And it should only take one to three days to verify whether the calls made to Tuyen's phone were Phu's or not, but the Binh Duong police still have no answer," Trien said.

Jurist Ho Quang Phat, who was asked by Nhut's family to follow up on the case immediately after his death, said that the 1.78 meter (5 feet 10 inches) tall Nhut, who weighed 65 kilograms (143lb), could not have hung himself to death with the thin cord of a cell phone charger.

Trinh Thanh of the HCMC Bar Association told Thanh Nien that if a person's custody is administrative, he should be released after 24 hours. In case of a criminal custody, several procedures have to be followed, like informing the family, the prosecutors' office and other agencies.

The police have not yet said what kind of detention Nhut was placed under and why his wife was not informed of it.

Kumho company representatives could not be reached for comment on the case despite repeated attempts.

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