A coal mine registered to the 324 Investment and Development Joint Stock Company in Quang Ninh Province. The private company was recently caught smuggling coal from Quang Ninh to China. Photo credit: Linh Linh
Four years after Quang Ninh authorities declared war on illegal coal mining and smuggling, the province has announced yet another major bust.
Police say they're widening their investigation into allegations that the 324 Investment and Development Joint Stock Company (Company 324) has stolen and illegally exported coal from state-owned mines.
Police have already arrested Luong Ngoc Phuong, 50, a Vietnamese national who directs Company 324.
On July 28, a task force from the Ministry of Public Security working with Quang Ninh Police seized a boat loaded with around 4,000 tons of coal near the Chinese border.
Tran Van Quang, the captain, failed to produce papers to prove his cargo's origin.
After being taken to a police station for questioning, Quang said he was hired by Company 324 to ship the coal to China.
The police then arrested Phuong, Company 324's director, and searched the company’s warehouses and the private homes of dozens of alleged members of the coal smuggling ring.
Investigators confiscated hundreds of tons of coal and documents related to the ring’s activities.
This year, the police have intercepted several boats carrying large amounts of undocumented coal from Quang Ninh to China.
The seizures marked the resurgence of coal smuggling after a four-year hiatus and prompted the provincial government to once again crack down on it.
Police say that most of the smugglers are private companies contractors hired to shovel and load soil and stones at coal mines managed by subsidiaries of the state-owned Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (Vinacomin).
Operating under poor oversight, the contractors instead loaded coal onto boats bound for China.
Recently, Nguyen Van Doc, the provincial mayor, asked Vinacomin to order its mine managers to stop hiring private companies to shovel soil and stones or transport coal and tighten up oversight.
Nguyen Thanh Son, director of Vincomin's management board of coal mining projects in the Red River Delta, said smuggling had caused great losses to the country’s coal resources.
In previous years, Vinacomin estimated that Vietnam lost around eight million tons of coal each year to smugglers.
Son said the number may have fallen to five million tons a year in the last two years due to a decrease in China's demand for coal.
“If one ton of coal fetches VND1 million (US$47), Vietnam loses VND5 trillion ($236 million) each year to smugglers,” he said.