Two main sponsors of the now-infamous landscaping project to cut down and replace thousands of trees in Hanoi, which has caused nationwide public uproar, said they were "shocked" after local authorities shifted the blame on them.
“I feel terribly shocked hearing the claim by Hanoi authorities that we sponsors pushed this tree felling project,” said Tran Tuan Viet, communication director of VPBank.
Earlier at a press conference on Friday, Hanoi's Vice Chairman Nguyen Quoc Hung told local media that the hasty project was carried out under “pressure from sponsors”.
Hung concluded the short press briefing without letting any of more than 100 local reporters raise a single question.
His speech, which mostly blamed sponsors, has prompted local media to seek out and expose organizations that have promised to fund the project.
Viet told Tuoi Tre that his bank only pledged to finance the replanting of trees, not the felling.
This was actually a response to a call for sponsorship from the city, he said, noting that VPBank did not have any financial interest in the project.
“What they said has turned us from tree growers into illegal tree cutters,” Viet said, demanding local authorities to clarify the issue publicly.
A representative of Vingroup, another sponsor, also claimed no interest in the project, which Hanoi pitched to sponsors as a “green tree project”.
Vingroup confirmed that it only provided some funding and did not have any influence on decision making.
On Sunday, the mayor of Hanoi Nguyen The Thao ordered the suspension of scores of officials responsible for the tree cutting plan, which had envisaged chopping down a total of 6,700 trees lining the city’s streets.
However, the statement issued by the municipal government did not say exactly how many officials were affected.
More than 500 green trees have been cut down.
Thao also asked the city’s chief inspector to work with relevant agencies to set up a task force that would look into the US$3.4 million landscaping project.