Verdict cancelled, fresh probe ordered in Labor Hero case

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The Supreme People's Court has nullified a verdict against a Labor Hero who had been found guilty of establishing an illegal slush fund at a collective farm in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho, an official said on Tuesday.

Vietnam's highest court on May 27 also ordered a fresh probe into the case, said Dang Quang Phuong, deputy head judge. An official decision will be issued within seven days.

In a highly controversial decision last November, Tran Ngoc Suong, former director of state-run Song Hau Farm, was sentenced to eight years in jail for running a slush fund and ordered by the Can Tho People's Court to pay back VND4.3 billion (current US$226,853) to the government.

Suong was named a Labor Hero by the government in 2000 and honored at the International Federation of Business & Professional Women's Women Inspire Awards in 2002.

A previous trial in August by the city's Co Do District People's Court issued the same sentence after she was found guilty of instructing her subordinates to embezzle more than VND9.1 billion ($480,084) for the off-the-book fund between 2001 to 2007.

Suong then lodged an appeal against the verdict, saying it was unlawful and unjust.

The city court also awarded jail sentences of between two to five years to three officials involved in the case. It suggested prosecutors press charges against Suong for embezzlement as well.

However, Vietnam highest prosecutor's office on April 4 said that the investigation leading to the jailing of Suong was tainted by protocol violations and the trial's verdict should be nullified to make way for a new probe.

The agency said there had been shortcomings and procedural violations during Suong's investigation and trial. It did confirm that it was right to investigate and charge Suong with the crime, but it disapproved of the way the situation was handled by investigators, prosecutors and the court.

The high-profile case has attracted controversy ever since the investigation began in 2008, with several senior leaders weighing in.

Former vice president Nguyen Thi Binh called Suong's prison sentence unjust, adding that the slush fund was actually a welfare fund for the collective she'd administered. Several other high-ranking officials also spoke out in defense of Suong.

Many Song Hau farmers had entered the collective landless and with few prospects, but have since become prosperous, owning Suong their gratitude.

More than 100 members from one of Vietnam's most successful collective farms had written to the Party Unit in Can Tho City after the verdict expressing their wish to serve jail time in place of Suong.

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