Vietnam customs officials charged for taking $70,000 bribe

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Prosecutors said recently they had charged two customs officials in the northern province of Lao Cai for "abuse of power" for allegedly taking nearly US$70,000 in bribes from a local trading company.

Tran Minh Thuong, 49, head of the Muong Khuong Border Gate customs office in Muong Khuong District, had reportedly forced Nguyen Phuong Hoa, director of the company, to pay his department and him personally for every single container passing over the border.

Hoa paid VND1.43 billion (US$68,300) between April and June last year to get sugar consignments to pass through the gate.

Thuong, who is under suspension, gave his subordinate Nguyen Van Cuong, 36, a seventh of the money and pocketed the rest.

Prosecutors said Hoa too could have been indicted -- with giving bribes -- but avoided prosecution because she reported to the officials.

If convicted, the officials can be jailed for three to 10 years since they took bribes of more than VND50 million.

A recent survey by the World Bank and Vietnamese inspectors found that many private companies are forced to pay bribes by government officials who otherwise cause troubles for them.

Of the 1,058 businesses polled, 63 percent said officials deliberately made procedures lengthy while 58 percent said they did not provide clear instructions and were fussy about documents.

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