Stiffer sentence proposed in major HCMC land scam

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HCMC Prosecutors have recommended stiffer punishments for a former high-ranking official and a female real estate agent for their role in a land scheme that nearly resulted in an execution.

If the courts listen, this will represent the third shift in sentencing for the pair.

The story began in 1999, when a female real estate agent named Pham Thi Tuyet Lan began buying and selling land for cash without proper titles. She passed kickbacks to an official at the Urban Management Agency to legalize her rights over the lands, prosecutors have said.

In 2001, the state-run Go Mon Real Estate Company paid Lan handsomely for the land"” VND16.6 billion (US$876,452) in government cash. Company brass took a healthy cut of the loot and paid off government officials to make the deal look small on paper the court has found.

The scandal spiraled throughout the whole of the Go Vap District and eventually went all the way up to Tran Kim Long, Chairman of the People's District Committee, the local government.

In February, 2007, after a string of arrests, the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court handed down a death sentence against Lan. Long got 25 years.

The Court of Appeals in HCMC repealed the verdicts six months later and ordered a fresh investigation of the case citing violations in investigation and prosecution process. Nearly all of the defendants appealed their sentences.

On June 22, during the appeals hearing, prosecutors asked an HCMC court to sentence Tran Kim Long, former Chairman of Go Vap District People's Committee to 30 years on charges of "receiving bribes," "offering bribes" and "abusing official capacity to influence others and appropriate property.".

The court dropped the charges of "receiving bribes" and sentenced Long to 26 years.

Prosecutors urged the court to consider locking Lan up for life. They had charged her with "offering bribes" and "violating state regulations in land management". The court gave her to 25 years in prison

In this week's appeals, prosecutors asked the court to reinstate charges of "receiving bribes" against Long, the Tuoi Tre newspaper reported on July 8. They also recommended stiffer sentencing for the official.

Prosecutors didn't propose any new charges against Lan but said she should receive a stiffer sentence, the paper said.

Other defendants in the case received sentences of between four and 28 years in prison.

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