Three in Dong Nai challenge official version of beer-soaked brawl

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Police escort Tran Dinh My Lan to trial in Dong Nai Province on July 14, 2014 for throwing beer into a tax official's face. Photo: Gia Khanh Police escort Tran Dinh My Lan to trial in Dong Nai Province on July 14, 2014 for throwing beer into a tax official's face. Photo: Gia Khanh
Three Vietnamese were sent to jail on Thursday for throwing beer in a tax official’s face during a fight they said began over his abuse of power.
The People’s Court of Dinh Quan District in Dong Nai Province, just outside Ho Chi Minh City, sentenced Tran Dinh My Lan to 12 months in jail.
Her brother Tran Dinh Lam and driver received six months each, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.
They were charged with humiliating Pham Van Trong, the head of the district tax office, the paper said.
They have vowed to appeal the verdict and maintain that Trong attacked on them.
Trong, they argued in court, is hated for his troubling tax policies, the paper reported.
According to the indictment, Lan, Lap, Hoang and two of Lan’s customers spotted Trong and several officials walking into a restaurant to eat lunch on October 10, 2013.
The officials were drinking beer during working hours, which violates civil servants' code of conduct.
According to the prosecutors, Lan tossed beer into Trong's face.
When Trong began cleaning his face, the indictment said, she threw another, grabbed him by the lapels and began spitting invective into his face.
Her brother Lap allegedly picked up a bottle of beer and menaced the other officials.
He also kicked Trong over when the latter tried to move toward his car.
According to the official indictment, the three then tried to block his access to his car for a while.
During their trial, the defendants told a different version of the events.
Lan said Trong had issued an official tax freeze that rendered local cashew farmers unable to sell 400 tons of nuts.
He also sent her offensive text messages.
All her anger “burst out when I entered the eatery and saw the scene of officials drinking on a weekday,” she told the court.
Lan said Trong grabbed her hair and slammed her head on the table, but the indictment failed to mention that.
Her brother also denied kicking Trong.
He said he did brandish a bottle of beer but only to stop nearly ten officials (whom he says picked up glasses of beer, rocks and chairs) from attacking his sister.
“During the investigation, the officials admitted to having tried to use chairs to hold my sister down. But now at the trial they’ve denied it all.”
Hoang, the driver, said he had no reason to humiliate Trong.
He just threatened to film the fight to get the parties to stop.
“I helped stop a fight. So how could I be accused of participating in Trong's humiliation?” he asked the panel of judges.
The panel did not respond.
The defendants put forth similar arguments during a trial in July during which the judges called for a fresh investigation.
Lan then said she had asked the officials to lower their volume and Trong replied by “teasing” her.
“She’s the daughter of a retired official. She has been suppressed for years and still has a loud mouth,” Lan claimed Trong said to his fellow officials at the eatery.
That prompted her to bring her glass over to the officials’ table.
Pham Minh Tam, the lawyer representing Lan and Lap from Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association, argued that their acts did not merit criminal charges.
“As far as I know, this is the first time in Vietnam’s legal history that throwing beer into someone's face has resulted in a criminal case,” he said.
“Lan and Trong had previous conflicts, and they fought. Administrative punishment (like cash fines) is enough.”
Tam said the prosecutors had violated procedures by seeking a medical examination of Trong's injuries and not Lan's.
Both of were injured in the fight, he said. 
“Lan was humiliated as well but the authorities have failed to look into the nature of the matter,” he said.
He criticized the police and prosecutors for their inhuman detention of Lap, who is being treated for a coronary bypass and stomach ulcers.
He also demanded that the officials drinking beer during work hours be dealt with properly.
A representative from the district prosecutor's office maintained that Trong never offended or attacked Lan.
The representative said Lap was detained because he made inconsistent statements.
He promised to recommend cash fines against Trong and other officials for drinking.

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