Trucks break city curfew after deal with cops

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Vietweek investigation exposes senior police officers negotiating monthly bribes


Heavy truck driving on a street in Ho Chi Minh City. Seven mobile policemen, including senior officers of District 6 and Binh Tan District, have been suspended after a Vietweek investigation found them accepting monthly bribes to disregard trucks' curfew violations.

Bypassing truck curfews in some Ho Chi Minh City's districts is a regular matter of making monthly payments to the local police, and the latter are kind enough to offer promotional rates for the third vehicle you sign up for the service.

A Vietweek investigation found that the monthly payment is usually VND500,000 (US$24) per truck, but that the final amount can also be negotiated at the police station.

When the investigation results were shown to the authorities, five police officers in Binh Tan District and three others in District 6 were suspended pending further action.

The suspended Binh Tan officers are from the district's mobile police division: deputy head of the division Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Hoang Chuong, Lt. Col. Vo Van Lam, Lt. Col. Thieu Quang Van, Major Hoang Van Khoa and Captain Vo Minh Man.

In District 6, the suspended officers are Lt. Col. Nguyen Van Tung, head of the district mobile police division and two traffic police: Captain Nguyen Cong Chung and Sergeant Major Vo Phung Loc.

In Vietnam, the mobile police division is a permanent taskforce that can be assigned to work independently or cooperate with other divisions against a wide range of crimes, from causing public disturbances and traffic violations to terrorism and subversion.

In HCMC, it is illegal for all trucks to drive in the city's central districts during peak hours. Trucks of 2.5 tons and above are only allowed in the city between midnight and 6 a.m.

However, Vietweek found that trucks can drive in some districts without being fined by the mobile police if they pay a monthly bribe. These officers, however, make it clear that the money does not cover other police forces that can still take action against drivers' violations.

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Currently, police agencies that can issue fines against traffic violations include traffic police, transport inspectors, mobile police and the chief ward police.

Promotion bribes

According to a truck owner, who only wanted to be identified as T., many drivers say they consider themselves lucky if some District 6 mobile police officers keep their papers and tell them to contact their division chief, because they will not have to pay high fines.

"The monthly [bribe] amount per truck is not so high and about VND500,000 monthly. Also, they only collect VND400,000 from the third truck," he said.

A Vietweek reporter posing as an assistant to a truck driver, identified only as D., witnessed Lt. Col. Tung reach an agreement with D. about the payment.

D., who has bought two trucks operating in District 6 recently, got Tung's number from other drivers and fixed an appointment with him on November 11 at his restaurant in Binh Tan District.

Tung claimed he could also help drivers by arranging payments with the traffic police besides his division.

D., who was told by other drivers about the arrangement, gave him two VND500,000 notes, saying he has two trucks driving in District 6.

"Remember to visit my restaurant every month!" Tung said, putting the money into his pocket.

He explained that the mobile police force could, from April, issue fines for traffic violations just like the traffic police. The Decree 71, taking effect from November 10, stipulates higher fines.

"I [patrol] all District 6 streets. I can fine vehicles parked on the sidewalks, the traffic police cannot. That's why I am more powerful than the traffic police," he said.

Before leaving, D. gave Tung VND400,000 on behalf of his friend, a crane truck driver in District 6.

On November 19, D. had parked one of his trucks near the corner of Hau Giang and Nguyen Van Luong streets when two traffic police, Sergeant Maj. Loc, approached him. He was asked to drive to a secluded corner where Capt. Chung demanded VND1 million instead of fining him for violating the truck curfew.

After negotiating, the amount was reduced to VND800,000 and the two traffic police officers drove a police motorbike to lead D to park near their station waiting for the curfew to be over.

D. reported the case to Tung and the following morning, Tung told him that he had phoned Chanh, who is Loc and Chung's boss. Chanh had asked Loc and Chung to go to Tung's house to apologize and return the [bribe] money, Tung said.

"If you are questioned [by the traffic police] next time, remember to tell them that you are uncle Tung's nephew," Tung told D. on the phone.

While investigating the system of collecting bribes devised by the mobile police team, Vietweek met with many drivers who said some officers of the Binh Tan District mobile police division accepted payments at their office itself.

A driver, who wanted to be identified only as H., said two officers had seized his driving license and asked him to come to the station.

H. was introduced to deputy head of the station, Lt. Col. Chuong, who gave him the phone number of Major Khoa who later asked H. to come to a restaurant where he returned the driving license and asked the latter to meet Chuong again.

On November 30, H. meet Chuong, Man, Lam and Van at the station. He was offered the deal to pay VND500,000 per truck per month for driving during curfew hours.

"Write the trucks' license numbers down and [pay] each month on 30th or 1st," Chuong told H.

Vietweek submitted the evidence to inspectors of the Ministry of Public Security and the HCMC Police Department.

Col. Le Anh Tuan, spokesman of the HCMC Police Department said the evidence is clear and no further investigation is needed.

"We will issue strict punishment. We have suffered from [the bad reputation of] the traffic police force, now there is another force. There will be strict measures taken as a deterrent," he said.

On December 12, inspectors of the Ministry of Public Security and the HCMC Police Department met with the Vietweek reporter and announced that all the officers involved have admitted their violations.

An inspector, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the leaders of District 6 and Binh Tan District police divisions have proposed that the corrupt officers be dismissed.

"They have admitted to the wrongdoings. This is going to be [handled] quickly because the evidence supplied by the reporter is self-evident," he said.

A report released last month by the World Bank and the Vietnam's Government Inspectorate found that traffic police is the most corrupt institution in Vietnam.

POLICING TRAFFIC A LUCRATIVE JOB?

Officers from various police departments are pulling up traffic offenders on Ho Chi Minh City streets though it is not their job, even senior police officials have admitted to Vietweek.

"I have instructed the mobile police not to pull over vehicles violating traffic laws because it is not their main task," a district police chief, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

"The major task of the mobile police is to maintain security, prevent and control public nuisance, take accident victims to hospital, and cordon off the site," he said.

Officers from various units like law and order, mobile police, and rapid action unit (113) are focusing on traffic violations and ignoring their main tasks, and this is being questioned by the public.

Many people have complained to Vietweek's hotline about this.

Many of the police officers take bribes, as Vietweek's investigation found, providing them a prime motive to police traffic instead of doing their own job.

A traffic police officer, who also requested anonymity, said the law and order and 113 units, who are supposed to assist the traffic police with clearing congestion and gridlock are not doing their job.

"So we have to seek help from youth volunteers and civil security forces," he said.

Vietweek has seen many law and order officers chasing after drivers violating traffic laws. They pull up vehicles right by sidewalks illegally occupied by eateries, clearing whom is their job.

Officers from the rapid action police have been found waiting on several streets like Truong Dinh, Dien Bien Phu, Le Van Si, Tran Hung Dao, and Nguyen Huu Canh to pull up offenders.

Many ward police officers and militiamen have also been seen pulling over vehicles though they do not have the authority to do so. Only the ward police chief does.

"I think ward police and the militiamen should patrol robbery hotspots and near restaurants where there are often fights," a District 3 resident said.

"They have not been able to prevent the robberies and street fights which is their main job," he added.

Former public security deputy minister Le The Tiem said he "does not know what it is on the street that makes every [traffic police officer] ask" to work there rather than in office.

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