Vietnam leader insists corrupt officials get punished for smuggling

Thanh Nien News

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Porters carry smuggled goods from Cambodia into Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered authorities to punish anyone who lends a hand to smugglers, including and especially government officials who collude in the crime.

Phuc questioned the role of government officials in fighting smuggling by referring to the exposure of the country’s biggest gasoline smuggling case, announced Monday, which was allegedly assisted by corruption.

The Ministry of Public Security said at a press briefing in Hanoi that the ring is estimated to have evaded at least VND60 billion (US$2.85 million) in taxes, environmental fees and other expenses a month.

Businessman Nguyen Truong Son in the northern province of Thanh Hoa was arrested for organizing the ring accused of trafficking 5,000-10,000 tons of oil into Vietnam every month with fake documents.

A mission joined by more than 170 officers busted the operation last December and nearly 1,700 tons of smuggled oil was confiscated.

Foreign-flagged boats carried oil from overseas and anchored along the local coast. The oil was transferred into small boats at night to be carried to a floating dock operated by Son’s company. The company then faked documents for the oil and sold it in various provinces.

The ministry said there were clues that the ring was supported by government officials.

Phuc told a commercial fraud conference Tuesday that those officials need to be tracked down.

“Whoever is concealing or protecting smuggling has to be strictly punished,” he said.

Figures from the defense ministry released at the conference showed that sea police and border guards in 2013 seized more than seven million liters of oil, more than 21 tons of petrol and 15,000 tons of ore smuggled.

“If we ask local police officers about smugglers in their area, would they know? Sure they know it all,” Phuc said.

“So from now on, for any place that allows smuggling and commercial fraud to go on for a long time, the leaders of the [local] government and police agencies have to be held responsible.”

He ordered authorities to immediately publish information about any and all cases if fraud in local media once it is exposed, “so there’s no doors left for bribery as an escape route.”

He said police and market managers need to put all smugglers and commercial fraudsters ever busted on a blacklist and submit it to higher authorities for them to keep track of those individuals.

Phuc recently ordered an investigation into rice smuggling across the Chinese border which Thanh Nien reported as rampant, even in the daytime, and ignored by officials.

The deputy PM also announced at the meeting that the responsibility of fighting commercial fraud would shift from the Ministry of Industry and Trade to the Finance Ministry.

The commercial fraud prevention committee has also been upgraded from one led by the trade minister to a national steering committee led by Phuc.

He said the former ministry has complained that it is not properly equipped to prevent smuggled or faked goods. “We have to sympathize that, the market managers alone could not get it done.”

The Finance Ministry meanwhile has important tools – the General Customs Department and the General Tax Department, he said. It will be assisted by the trade ministry, the Ministries of Defense and Public Security.

Do Thang Hai, vice minister of industry and trade, said the ministry’s fight against smuggling so far has been limited, and has not able to expose major rings and has only managed to punish the smugglers instead of the masterminds behind the crimes.

Changes at home

Le Quy Vuong, vice minister of Public Security, said one core solution to smuggling is to boost local production and stabilize the domestic market.

“We’ve observed that many products which can be produced at home such as toilet tissues, toothpicks or children toys are still smuggled from China.”

Phuc agreed, saying that local businesses need help to build strong brands and raise their competitiveness.

“Vietnamese clothing is quite good, there’s no need to buy from elsewhere just to suffer the poisons used in making it,” he said.

Finance minister Dinh Tien Dung said smuggling and commercial fraud has sabotaged the local business environment as it has affected the confidence of both consumers and producers.

“The ones making real products are making losses while the ones making fake ones are earning real profits,” Dung said.

He said related authorities, especially customs officials, need to raise their capacity and integrity to meet the requirements of their jobs.

He took an example of the smuggling of some 200 kilograms of heroin from Ho Chi Minh City to Taiwan last November, which was only caught by Taiwan’ Criminal Investigation Bureau.

Dung said it was ironic that “we can spot a fly, but not an elephant.”

Vu Van Tam, vice minister of agriculture, told the conference that smuggling and commercial fraud in the field are common, like the injection of water or other substances into animal meat and agar into shrimp to add weight.

Phuc said food safety and hygiene is about human life and agreed with Tam’s idea that a special mission be set up to stop frauds targeting foods. 

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