Transport official gets 5 years in jail for gambling in Vietnam

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A Mekong Delta court on Monday sentenced a former senior transport official to five years in prison for gambling billions of dong on Chinese chess, bringing an end to the high profile case.

The Soc Trang Province People's Court handed down the punishment after convicting Nguyen Thanh Leo, 48, former deputy director of the provincial transport department on gambling charges.

According to the indictment, Leo was caught gambling with Tran Van Tan, 49, former director of the province's Center for Driving Tests and Licensing, and Dinh Van Muoi, 49, former deputy chief of the Soc Trang Town Communist Party Unit's Inspection Committee.

Leo owed Tan VND17 billion (US$809,000) and VND2.5 billion ($119,000) to Muoi at the time the three were busted in December last year.

Ngo Hue Phan, a lottery ticket vendor, was caught brokering the games.

Gambling is illegal in Vietnam. Those convicted face two to seven years in prison according to the second clause of Penal Code Article 248, which stipulates punishments for professional gamblers, repeat offenders and those whose gambling involved at least VND50 million ($2,400).

The case was exposed last December when Leo sought police protection from Nguyen Thanh Hung and Nguyen Thanh Truyen, who had been hired by Tan to send Leo death threats in connection with his gambling debts.

Following Leo's tip, police organized a sting operation and caught Leo and Tan red-handed in a café.

Further investigations later found that Leo also gambled on chess with Muoi at Phan's house and at another café.

At the Monday court, Tan was sentenced to 17 and one half years in prison for gambling and depriving the property of others.

Muoi was sentenced to four years for gambling and Ngo Hue Phan was sentenced to two years for brokering gambling.

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Hung and his son Truyen each were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for depriving the property of others.

The court decided to seize two houses that Tan had forcibly taken from Leo, VND1.9 billion and six taels of gold from Tan, VND90 million from Truyen, VND435 million from Muoi and VND400 million from Phan, all of which had been involved in the gambling ring.

Ho Chi Buu, the head judge, said Muoi did not admit to his wrongdoing, while the others had all confessed to their crimes.

He said the panel of judges issued strict punishment of five years in prison for Leo, despite the fact he was once awarded the third-class labor medal, because he gambled for a long period of time and brought others into the criminal activity.

His repeated and serious violations have tarnished the image of a civil servant and the strict punishment will be a deterrent to others, he said.

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