Vietnam court delays verdict in high-profile graft case

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Duong Chi Dung (in white), the former chairman of Vinalines, and Mai Van Phuc, its former general director, in the front row during an appeals trial Friday. PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE NEWSPAPER
The Supreme People’s Court delayed delivering its verdict, last week, on an appeal submitted by two former executives from the state-run Vietnam National Shipping Lines (Vinalines) who were sentenced to death last December for embezzling VND10 billion (US$474,000) each in a high-profile case that rocked the country.
The court was scheduled to deliver its verdict at 2 p.m., on Friday. But in an expected move, it continued to question the defendants.
Duong Chi Dung, the former chairman of Vinalines, and Mai Van Phuc, its former general director, were among nine defendants seeking appeals.
The Hanoi People's Court sentenced the pair to death on December 16, 2013 after convicting them of "embezzlement."
Dung and Phuc also got 28 years and 18 years respectively for "intentionally violating state regulations on economic management, causing serious consequences," according to the Hanoi court's ruling.
The pair was among 10 defendants prosecuted in a trial that was meant to highlight Vietnam's commitment to clamping down on public corruption in the face of widespread outrage.
Of the other defendants, Tran Huu Chieu, the former deputy general director, and Tran Hai Son, the former director of a unit, got 19 years and 22 years respectively for "embezzlement" and "intentionally violating state regulations on economic management, causing serious consequences."
Two other Vinalines employees, three customs officers and an officer with the Vietnam Register office received jail terms of between four and eight years for "intentionally violating state regulations on economic management, causing serious consequences."
The court also asked those defendants to pay damages of up to billions of dong each.
After the first trial, nine defendants filed appeals.
The case
Prosecutors from the Supreme People's Procuracy, Vietnam's highest prosecutors' office, said that in 2007, with Dung's approval, Vinalines began to build a shipyard to repair ships in Southern Vietnam for more than VND3.8 trillion ($180.1 million).
The firm bought a used dock from Russian-owned company Nakhodka through a Singaporean brokerage firm called AP. Manufactured in Japan in 1965, it was heavily damaged and unusable, and originally offered for $2.3 million.
Vinalines ended up paying a whopping $9 million to buy it and another $10.5 million to repair it.
Chieu, then vice general director of Vinalines, and Son, then director of Vinalines Ship Repairing Ltd., Co, Mai Van Khang, an employee of Vinalines, and Le Van Duong, an employee of the Vietnam Register, visited Russia to inspect the dock
They were aware of its condition and actual price and reported them to Dung and Phuc. But the two ordered them to write a report saying the dock was in good enough condition to buy.
Dung, Phuc, Chieu, and Son received a $1.66 million kickback from the Russians for the deal, according to the indictment.
Dung fled the country, allegedly with the help of his police officer brother when the scandal first broke in May 2012.
He was apprehended in Cambodia and brought back to Vietnam four months later.
Three customs officers in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa were found guilty of illegally clearing the dock.
Denial
During the appeals trial, which opened Tuesday, Dung maintained that he hadn't received the bribe, and that he was innocent.
He pleaded with the court to reduce his sentence so that he could have time to clear his name.
Phuc also affirmed that he did not conspire with Dung to receive the bribe, and that Son had made up the story about him receiving the bribe.
For his part, Son maintained that what he told investigators and judges in the first trial was true.
On Wednesday prosecutors recommended that the court uphold the previous sentences. However, the following day, they admitted that the testimonies of the defendants about the $1.66 million bribe conflicted.

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