Vietnam metro suspends cop accused of shaking down tricycle drivers

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Police in Ho Chi Minh City have suspended a local officer for allegedly soliciting and receiving bribes from two tricycle drivers in exchange for their personal and vehicle documents he confiscated without cause.

Le Thanh Nghi, a lieutenant with police division in Hiep Binh Phuoc Ward of Thu Duc District, received the suspension after district police verified evidence provided by Thanh Nien reporters, Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huu Toan said.

Thanh Nien found that Nghi asked Nguyen Duc Toan, 38, and Doan Van Trang, 42, to pay him VND5 million (US$238.65) each to get their papers back in January. Later Thanh Nien also captured Toan and Trang on video making payments to Nghi at a local café.

According to Toan, the senior lieutenant colonel, the cases have also been reported to the HCMC Police Department, stressing that district police will "strictly" handle the case in accordance with laws.

Earlier, on January 14, Nghi and another officer stopped Toan at a crossroads as he was transporting goods from Thu Duc Market on a tricycle.

Nghi then confiscated Toan's vehicle registration, ID card and driver's license, demanding he pay VND5 million to get them back.

Five days later, Toan called Nghi and gave him VND2 million ($95.46), saying he could not get more than that.

After receiving the money, Nghi took Toan to his villa, also in Thu Duc District, where he returned the papers.

In another case, Trang was also stopped by Nghi and another officer at the same intersection on January 20. Failing to present his driver's license, Trang had his vehicle registration paper and ID card confiscated by Nghi.

Nghi demanded Trang pay him VND5 million within two days to get his papers back.

On January 22, Trang called Nghi, begging the officer to reduce the amount, because he had  been able to borrow only VND3 million ($143.19).

But Nghi refused, saying that his violation had already been recorded, so it could not be changed. He also claimed that Vietnamese laws stipulated that VND4-6 million was the fine for driving without a license.

However, after Trang continued to beg, Nghi reduced it to VND4 million.

Later the driver paid Nghi at the same café and was given his papers back.

Speaking to Thanh Nien, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Bien, chief of Hiep Binh Phuoc Ward's police, said Nghi was one of the officers assigned to night patrols which aim to suppress criminals and handle signs of violations.

So, his pulling over of the tricycles was illegal, Bien said, adding that under Vietnamese laws, driving without a license is punishable by a VND1 million fine.

Asked if Trang's violation had been recorded as Nghi claimed, Bien said he had not recently signed any documents related to violations made by tricycle drivers.

Local police will review all of their records of administrative violations and work with Trang and Toan to further clarify the situation, according to the officer.

Bien said Nghi was once disciplined for harassing people in a neighborhood when working as a policeman there in 2011, before being reassigned to the ward police's anti-crime team.

In the meantime, Thanh Nien reporters learned that after the case had been exposed, Nghi met Toan and Trang to offer his apologies and return their money in the hopes that the two would drop their lawsuits against him. Both men rejected the offer.

Police are investigating.

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