Vietnam follows up on polymer banknote scandal

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Allegations of bribery in cash or kind will be investigated once evidence is in hand, officials say

John Leckenby (C), a former employee with one of the two banknote firms linked to Australia's central bank, leaves court with his wife (R) and a member of his legal team (after being charged with bribing Asian officials to secure contracts to print their currencies, in Melbourne on July 1.

The Ministry of Public Security is looking into allegations that a Vietnamese official accepted bribes in exchange for providing a multi-million dollar currency contract with the Reserve Bank of Australia's currency-maker, Securency.

In January, the Australian newspaper, The Age implicated a number of Asian treasury officials in accepting bribes in exchange for providing government currency contracts with Securency.

Following information contained in foreign media reports, Vietnamese authorities have asked foreign justice officials to provide evidence to local investigators, said Trieu Van Dat, deputy director of the Counter Crime Police Department at the ministry. He added that Vietnamese police have yet to find evidence of official wrongdoing.

The central government has ordered the Ministry of Public Security to cooperate with foreign agencies to gather information and handle it like the Pacific Consultants International case once they have evidence, the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper quoted Dat as saying, during a review Tuesday (July 5) that looked at efforts to fight crime nationwide in the first six months of 2011.

In the case of the Tokyo-based Pacific Consultants International, Huynh Ngoc Si, former deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City's Transport Department, was sentenced last October to life imprisonment for accepting bribes to help the company win contracts in implementing a major infrastructure project funded by Japanese official development assistance.

In January, an investigative report by Melbourne newspaper The Age accused the Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) currency-maker, Securency, of bribing Le Duc Thuy, Vietnam's former central bank governor, by paying for his child to attend an exclusive British university.

"The arrangement is one of several lucrative financial incentives the [currency] firm allegedly funneled to Vietnamese officials in return for a deal that Vietnam print its currency on Securency's plastic banknote material," the paper reported. "The alleged bribery helped Securency land huge banknote supply contracts in Vietnam between 2002 and 2009," it said.

The paper said legal sources have confirmed that Securency funds were used to pay for the university education of Thuy's child.

Thuy awarded Securency contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, the paper said.

Senior Securency executives have privately denied direct involvement in paying bribes, The Age reported.

Le Duc Thuy, born in 1948 in the north-central province of Ha Tinh, was the central bank governor from 1999 to 2007. In March 2008, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung appointed Thuy as Chairman of the National Financial Supervisory Committee an agency in charge of supervising banking, securities and insurance activities.

On March 17, 2011, PM Dung signed a decision on the retirement of Thuy from public service. The decision took effect as from May 1 this year.

In the banknote scandal, two firms linked to Australia's central bank and six of their former employees were charged on July 1 for bribing Asian officials to secure contracts to print their currencies, The Age reported the same day.

As arrests were being made in Australia, a former top Malaysian central banker and a businessman were charged with corruption for accusations of paying kickbacks.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) said the charges related to currency companies Securency International and Note Printing Australia (NPA) bribing officials in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

"The AFP will allege that during the period 1999-2005, senior managers from Securency and NPA utilized international sales agents to bribe foreign public officials in order to secure banknote contracts," The Age quoted the police as saying.

Securency, which is partly owned by the RBA and produces polymer banknotes used in more than 30 countries, said in a statement that it had been charged with three counts of conspiracy to influence foreign officials.

The company, which asked that Australian police investigate allegations of bribery in May 2009, said it was cooperating fully with authorities.

NPA, a wholly-owned RBA subsidiary responsible for running the printing works where Australia's banknotes are printed, made no separate comment.

Australian police, who have worked with Britain's Serious Fraud Office, Malaysian authorities and Indonesian National Police on the case, said the investigation, which stretches as far as Nigeria, was still underway.

They said that in Indonesia, a foreign official is suspected of receiving a bribe to ensure a joint venture banknote contract for Securency and NPA, while in Vietnam, an official is said to have taken a bribe in the form of a university scholarship to secure a banknote contract on behalf of Securency.

"Vietnam is ready to cooperate with Australia to investigate... and handle this in accordance with Vietnamese law," The Age cited Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga as saying.

Police said the six Australians charged, aged between 50 and 66, had been chief executives, chief financial officers or sales agents for Securency or NPA. All of them were granted bail by a Melbourne court on July 1.

If convicted, they face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to AU$1.1 million (US$1.2 million), while the charges against the Australian companies carry a maximum fine of AU$330,000 per offence.

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