Vietnam inspects bridge project amid corruption allegations

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Transport Minister Dinh La Thang (2nd from left) and Deputy Minister Nguyen Hong Truong (1st from right) seen at the groundbreaking ceremony to build Trang Thua and Cong Neo bridges on January 3, 2015. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre Transport Minister Dinh La Thang (2nd from left) and Deputy Minister Nguyen Hong Truong (1st from right) seen at the groundbreaking ceremony to build Trang Thua and Cong Neo bridges on January 3, 2015. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre

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Vietnam is launching an investigation into a major bridge project after local media interpreted a suspicious side note written on one bidding application as a wink-wink guarantee from a senior official. 
A team led by the transport ministry’s deputy chief inspector Le Van Doan will look into the bidding process at the US$17.3 million project to build Trang Thua and Cong Neo bridges in Hai Duong Province, which neighbors Hanoi.
The project is backed by the World Bank. 
The bidding probe, aimed at checking whether the process was "transparent and in line with the law", came after local media made public a side note on a private contractor's bidding application. 
The note, believed to be handwritten by Deputy Transport Minister Nguyen Hong Truong, demanded the attention of the state-run Vietnam Road Authority, which is responsible for selecting contractors. 
Local media also published images purporting to be text messages between Truong and the private company's chairwoman. Her name has been withheld. 
In one conversation, the woman appeared to ask Truong to talk to the project's managers and then they discussed about money. 
The authenticity of these conversations has not been verified. Thanh Nien News cannot independently does so.
Not a favor, ministry says
The Ministry of Transport has released an official statement, saying that what officials write on documents when sending them to the next agency should not be viewed as guidance towards any particular bidder. 
Minister Dinh La Thang also told news website VnExpress on Saturday that the inspection team is only tasked with examining the bidding process. 
"Truong [the deputy minister] said he didn’t receive bribes in exchange for helping businesses win the project. The text messages involve a personal issue, so the ministry won’t comment on this,” said Thang.
Work on Trang Thua and Cong Neo bridges in the northern province of Hai Duong began on January 3.
The two bridges are estimated to cost roughly VND370 billion ($17.3 million) to build. Of that amount, VND292 billion came from World Bank loans.
They are scheduled to open to traffic by June 2016, replacing two old bridges. 

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