US bribery convictions raise questions at home

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Media reports at home and abroad have forced Vietnamese officials to look into last week's conviction of three Vietnamese-Americans inside the US.

Last Saturday, local media outlets quoted several sources as saying that three former employees and a partner of the Philadelphia-based exporter, Nexus Technologies Inc., had pled guilty, on September 15, to bribing Vietnamese officials in exchange for lucrative government contracts.

The trio admitted that from 1999 to 2008 they agreed to pay, and knowingly paid, bribes in excess of US$250,000 to Vietnamese government officials, according to the US Department of Justice which first charged the brother and his two sisters with money laundering and bribery in October of last year.

The department's most recent indictment alleged that three of the company's customers the state-owned Vietsovpetro Joint Venture, Petro Vietnam Gas Company (PV Gas), and the Southern Flight Management Center (SFMC) - were also involved in the case.

However, Vu Tien Chien, the office manager at the Central Steering Committee on Corruption Prevention, said that, so far, all of the information they have received was provided by the press. Agencies concerned need to evaluate the claims and hand the matter over to investigators if the case warrants further probes, Chien added.

"Any corruption case related to Vietnam is considered carefully and strictly by the country's anticorruption agencies," Chien said.

Hoang Nghia Mai, deputy chief of the Supreme People's Procuracy, the nation's highest prosecutorial body, also told the Tuoi Tre newspaper that foreign agencies have yet to forward any related information to his office.

In the meantime, Dinh La Thang, chairman of the Board at PetroVietnam, said an internal investigation following the allegations found their member companies (PV Gas and Vietsovpetro) aren't related to Nexus' bribery case.

The news source also quoted a leader at the Ministry of Transport's inspectorate as saying that in its report to leadership, the SFMC denied all allegations. They have never signed a contract agreeing to buy equipment from Nexus, they said.

Last week a Philadelphia court sentenced Nexus' President and owner Nam Nguyen, 54, of Houston and Vietnam, to 16 months in prison, Bloomberg reported.

The sentencing came as an apparent plea deal according to a US Department of Justice press release issued in March, 2010, the trio could have been fined up to $27 million and sentenced to between 30 and 35 years in prison.

One of his siblings, Kim Nguyen, 41, was sentenced to two years of probation and another, An Nguyen, 34, received a nine-month sentence. Former Nexus partner Joseph Lucas was given two years of probation.

They all pled guilty of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Prosecutors said that Nexus identified US vendors for contracts opened for bids by the Vietnamese government and other companies in Vietnam, according to Bloomberg. The products sought included helicopter parts, chemical detectors, bomb-containment gear, air tracking systems and other materials.

In March of this year, a spokesperson for the US Attorney's office alleged the following in a government release:

"According to court documents, Nam Nguyen negotiated the contracts and bribes with the Vietnamese government agencies and employees. Kim Nguyen, vice president of Nexus, oversaw the US operations and handled company finances. An Nguyen identified US vendors."

Acknowledging that, as a company, it operated primarily through criminal means, Nexus also agreed to cease operations, the US Department of Justice reported.

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