Vietnam seeks info about bribery case from Japan

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The office of state-owned Vietnam Railways in Hanoi. The company has suspended four senior officials shortly after Japanese media carried reports about a Tokyo-based company paying bribes to get ODA (official development assistance) project contracts in Vietnam. Photo: Ngoc Thang
The Ministry of Transport has sent a delegation to Japan to collect information related to bribery allegations made against a Vietnamese railway official by an executive at a Japanese company.
The delegation’s leader Deputy Minister Nguyen Ngoc Dong told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that they would ask Japanese agencies to provide them with a list of people related to the case.
The Japan News, an English news website run by Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, reported Friday that Tamio Kakinuma, president of Japan Transportation Consultants, Inc. (JTC), had admitted that his company had paid an official 80 million yen (US$782,000) in return for an ODA (official development assistance) project order worth 4.2 billion yen ($41 million) in Vietnam.
The kickback was said to have been paid to a senior official with an office responsible for project administration at Vietnam Railways, the state-owned operator of the railway system in the country.
JTC is alleged to have paid a total of 130 million yen ($1.27 million) to foreign civil servants in Indonesia, Vietnam and Uzbekistan between February 2008 and this February to obtain orders for five ODA projects.
According to Tuoi Tre, Dong, flew to Japan on Tuesday night, will work with the director of Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau, which discovered JTC’s illegal payments, and other agencies.
The deputy minister said the purpose of his trip would be to collect information and cooperate with Japanese agencies. He said the ministry would immediately publish any official information it can obtain.
The Ministry of Transport has already sent a letter to JTC, asking the company to provide it with information related to the case, the Tuoi Tre report said.
Since last week, the ministry has suspended four officials with Vietnam Railways, including one incumbent and three former directors of the company’s project management unit.
In the meantime, Nguyen Van Huyen, chief inspector of the transport ministry, announced on Tuesday that he was launching investigations into Vietnam Railways’ projects with JTC, including Hanoi’s first urban railway, which is allegedly the project in question.
Ten officials who were involved in the project have been ordered to send reports to the ministry.
Among the officials are Le Manh Hung, retired deputy transport minister, and Nguyen Huu Bang, retired general director of Vietnam Railways.
The project – the building of a 28-kilometer elevated railway from Yen Vien Town in Gia Lam District to Ngoc Hoi Commune in Thanh Tri Commune – began in 2008.
A joint-venture between JTC and other Japanese and Vietnamese companies won a bid to become the project’s consultant with a contract worth over 2.9 billion yen, or VND320 billion (a total of $43.35 million), according to the ministry.
However, due to changes in design, the contract’s value was increased to over VND3.6 billion yen or VND236 billion (a total of $46.33 million). Its term was also extended to October 2012, instead of November 2011.
The consultant joint-venture, led by JTC and Vietnam Railways planned to sign a contract for the project’s next stage this July.
But, following the scandal, the transport ministry has ordered a temporary halt to the contract negotiation and disbursement for the first-stage of the contract, online newspaper VnExpress reported.
The project has so far received over 21.2 billion yen ($207.3 million) in ODA from JICA.
In 2008, another senior Vietnamese official was also charged with taking bribes in 2003 from a Tokyo-based company in connection with a major infrastructure project – a highway linking the east and west of Ho Chi Minh City – also backed by Japanese ODA.
Huynh Ngoc Si, former deputy director of the HCMC's transport department and head of the project, was originally sentenced to life in prison in 2010. Si was convicted of receiving $262,000 from executives of Pacific Consultants International, or PCI, which was hired as a consultant on the project.
An appeal reduced his sentence to 20 years in 2011.
The case rocked the country, prompting Japan, then Vietnam's biggest donor country, to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in development loans in December 2008. Japan resumed the aid a year later.

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