Vietnam provincial bigwig gets away with drunk driving killing

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The accident scene on Tran Phu Street in Lam Dong Province's Da Lat Town. The seven-seat SUV belonging to Mai Nam Duong, deputy director of the Lam Dong Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, after his drunk driving accident on May 22. Photo by Lam Vien

State prosecutors have stirred public discontent after they dropped criminal charges against a government official who killed a man and seriously injured three others while driving drunk.

The Da Lat Town prosecutor's office known as the People's Procuracy in Lam Dong Province last week announced it had suspended criminal investigations into the case of Mai Nam Duong, former deputy director of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.


The office announced it would not press criminal charges against Duong, and that he would be subject to administrative fines only.

It explained the decision saying Duong had responded "positively"to the damage caused, and that his victims had withdrawn their complaints after receiving more than VND1 billion (US$47,400) in compensation.

On May 22, Duong was driving his seven-seat SUV on Tran Phu Street in Da Lat, the capital of Lam Dong, when his car crashed through a street barrier and plunged into three motorbikes traveling in the opposite direction.

Truong Van Hien, 48, died on the spot.

Two women - Nguyen Thi Hanh Nguyen, 39, and Pham Thi Dan Thanh, 34 - and a man named Nguyen Van Minh, 29, were seriously injured. Duong was also slightly injured.

The three motorbikes were completely wrecked. Duong's car flipped over and was also severely damaged.

According to investigators, Duong caused the accident because he was drunk and unable to control his car.

They said his blood alcohol content was 0.64 milligrams per air liter at the time of the crash. Vietnam allows zero alcohol content for car drivers.

Duong was not arrested after the accident.

In early July, Da Lat police started investigating Dung on charges of "violating driving regulations" and he was granted bail.

Colonel Nguyen Dinh Long, the city's police chief, explained that Duong was not detained, but placed under house arrest due to health problems and advanced age.

Though Duong's age was not revealed after the accident, the fact that he retired on June 1 means he is probably around 60.

Duong has paid more than VND1 billion (US$47,000) in compensation to the victims' families.

The families withdrew their complaints against him after receiving the money.

In November, Da Lat police finalized investigations and recommended that he be charged with "violating driving regulations," but prosecutors chose not to.

The agency's decision has attracted criticism from the public. Phan Anh Tuan, a lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City Law University, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that deadly drunk driving warrants a jail term of between three and 10 years.

He said Duong's compensation to the victims' families was not a valid reason to drop the criminal charges.

Tuoi Tre received around 200 outraged messages from readers, most of whom agreed that the case could set a dangerous precedent that would allow the rich and powerful to get away with crimes by simply buying their freedom.

Most of the feedback argued that the outcome of the case would have been different if Duong was not a government official.

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