Vedan to pay compensation, ignore lawyer's advice

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Taiwanese river polluter Vedan Vietnam will continue to compensate affected farmers, a company official said Thursday, rejecting advice by the company lawyer that the payments are stopped as the farmers are still complaining.

Yeh Sheau Yeh, director of Vedan Vietnam office in Dong Nai Province, said the company has prepared enough money and will continue to pay the compensation due in the second stage, by January 14, 2011 to farmers in Dong Nai, Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Ho Chi Minh City.

The notion that Vedan might stop paying money was a personal one forwarded by the company lawyer, Yeh said.

Hoang Nhu Vinh, the lawyer for Vedan Vietnam, on Wednesday said that the monosodium glutamate maker might stop paying further compensation to affected farmers along the southern Thi Vai River as some of them have not stayed true to the commitment that they would withdraw all lawsuits once Vedan begain paying compensation.

Vinh said there were 94 new lawsuits against Vedan asking for VND164 million in compensation, so as a lawyer for the company, he has suggested that it stop paying further compensation.

He also said that Vedan has not come to a decision on his suggestion.

The idea "was my personal opinion, not the official one of the company's directors."

The MSG maker in early November signed an agreement to pay nearly VND120 billion (US$6.1 million) to affected farmers in Dong Nai.

In October, Vedan signed similar agreements with farmers in the southern province of Ba Ria Vung Tau and HCMC for compensation worth VND53.6 billion ($2.8 million) and VND45.7 billion ($2.39 million) respectively.

Parts of the compensation were paid soon after the agreements' signing, and the rest has been promised by January 14, 2011.

The city and provinces' People's Committees were supposed to disburse the money and Vedan would not respond to any complaints of late delivery, the agreements said, accoring to Vinh.

"Now that some complaints have arisen, I have to suggest the compensation payment be stopped," the lawyer said.

Tran Van Cuong, deputy director of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, also in charge of making the list of affected farmers and delivering the compensation, said he has not received any notice from Vedan about stopping the payment.

Cuong also said that the 17 farmers suing Vedan are not among the earlier list of affected farmers, so the company cannot say that the affected farmers have violated the commitment.

He said if Vedan tries to avoid payment, the province will sue the company.

Lawyer Nguyen Van Hau, who represents farmers in Ba Ria-Vung Tau, said the province has disbursed the money Vedan gave for in the first stage of the compensation.

Ao Van Thinh, vice chairman of Dong Nai People's Committee, also said he has not been informed about the new lawsuits.

Thinh said he would give comments after looking into the matter.

Authorities in Dong Nai on Wednesday gathered the farmers to ask them for opinions about the way the compensation has been delivered. All the farmers expressed satisfaction, officials said.

Vedan Vietnam was caught in 2008 discharging untreated effluents directly into the Thi Vai River through secret underground pipes.

Government inspectors found that the company had been dumping 105 million liters of untreated wastewater a month into the river for 14 years.

It attracted further criticism for continued denial of the extent of its culpability as well as compensation it owed to affected residents, until its products began being boycotted by major retailers like the Saigon Co-op and Big C supermarket chains early in August.

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