Sentence cut for Vietnam official in graft scandal

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An appeals court in Vietnam on Thursday (September 1) reduced to 20 years the jail term of a former senior official at the center of a corruption scandal that led Japan to suspend aid, a court official said.

Huynh Ngoc Si, born in 1953, was originally sentenced to life in prison at a trial in Ho Chi Minh City last October. He maintained his innocence.

Si was accused of taking bribes of up to US$262,000 in 2003 from a Tokyo-based company in connection with a major infrastructure project - a highway linking the east and west of the city - backed by Japanese aid money.

Si was deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City's transport department at the time and headed a team in charge of major road schemes.

"The court decided to reduce Si's life sentence to 20 years," the court official from Ho Chi Minh City told AFP, requesting not to be named.

At the hearing, which began on Tuesday in the southern business capital, Si repeatedly denied the allegations, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported on Thursday.

But the appeals court was told that his family paid back VND3 billion (now $145,000) to the court after the original trial, the report said.

While maintaining Si's guilt, prosecutors said his sentence should be reduced because of constant enticements from Pacific Consultants International (PCI) that he take the money so they could win bids for the highway project.

Si is already serving a six-year sentence for pocketing rent paid by the same firm for the use of state-owned offices.

In 2009 a Tokyo court sentenced former PCI president Masayoshi Taga to a suspended jail term for bribing Si.

Japanese media reported that former PCI executives admitted to paying Si $820,000 in bribes - more than three times the amount he was accused at his trial of accepting.

Japan, Vietnam's biggest bilateral donor, resumed aid loans to Vietnam in March 2009 after suspending them in December 2008 during the PCI scandal.

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