Vietnamese official escapes jail term in infamous land revocation case

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Nguyen Van Khanh (Center), 52, former vice chairman of Tien Lang District People's Committee, and four other officials involved in a high-profile land revocation case last year. Khanh had his punishment reduced from a jail term of 30 months to a suspended sentence of the same duration for his 'damaging property' conviction at an August 1 hearing. Photo by Pham Hai Sam

The Supreme People's Court has commuted a jail term to suspended sentence for a former senior official of Hai Phong City's Tien Lang District, who last year had instructed a large force of police and soldiers force in the revocation of a local farmer's land. 

The court on August 1 handed down a 30-month suspended sentence to Nguyen Van Khanh, former vice chairman of Tien Lang District People's Committee, for his "damaging property" conviction.

He will be put under an additional probation of 42 months.

The judge said he was lenient and accepted Khanh's request for lighter punishment because the victims  the family of fish farmer Doan Van Vuon, 50 had sent a proposal asking that Khanh's sentence be reduced, saying that Khanh and his family had given them compensation.

He also agreed with the Supreme People's Procuracy, Vietnam's highest prosecutors' office, that the sentence reduction was also due to Khanh's achievements at work and his family's good background and devotion and requests from several agencies and individuals in Tien Lang.

The court rejected appeals of three other defendants Pham Xuan Hoa, 58, former director of Tien Lang's Natural Resources and Environment Department, Le Thanh Liem, 50, former chairman of Vinh Quang Commune People's Committee and Pham Dang Hoan, 53, a former commune Party chief, for lighter punishment.

Hoa and Liem each still received two-year suspended sentences while Hoan got a 15-month suspended sentence, also for "damaging property."

Hoa and Liem each got an additional 48 months of probation, and Hoan got an additional 30 months of probation.

The court also dismissed the victims' proposal to increase the punishment of Le Van Hien, 55, former chairman of the Tien Lang District People's Committee, who had failed to prevent his subordinates from damaging Vuon's property for "irresponsibility which caused serious consequences."

Hien had accepted his 15-month suspended sentence and additional 30-month probation handed down by the Hai Phong People's Court in April and had not given any appeals.  

The court also did not allow them to hold any position in government agencies for at least one year after serving their sentences.

The controversial land revocation, which Prime Ministry Nguyen Tan Dung later called illegal, took place on January 5, 2012 when Khanh directly instructed more than 100 armed police and soldiers to evict Vuon from his more than 19 hectares of coastal swampland.

After being issued a 14-year lease to the land in Tien Lang District's Vinh Quang Commune in 1997, Vuon turned it into aquaculture farms.

Vuon, who masterminded the resistance, and other family members prevented the force from entering the land with fences, landmines and shotguns.

Doan Van Quy, 47, Vuon's younger brother, set off the landmines and fired twice with his two shotguns. The landmines did not cause any casualties while Quy's shots injured seven police and soldiers.     

Later that day, Khanh ordered the officers to demolish Vuon and Quy's houses, some tents erected near a shrimp pond and other properties.

Hoa, Liem and Hoan helped Khanh carry out the eviction and destruction, which resulted in estimated property damage totaling more than VND295 million (US$13,959).

Lao Dong (Labor) newspaper quoted the appeals court as saying Thursday Khanh and Hoan paid all the compensation to Vuon and his family, while Hoa and Liem each need to fulfill another VND12.5 million.

The court in April required the four officials to pay compensation for the damage, with Khanh, Liem and Hoa required to dole out more than VND82 million each and Hoan VND47 million.

In July 30, the Supreme People's Court upheld the five-year sentences on Vuon and Quy, for attempted murder, which were given to them by the Hai Phong City People's Court in April.

Also convicted of attempted murder, Vuon's older brother, Doan Van Sinh, 56, had his prison term reduced from 42 to 33 months, while Sinh's son, Doan Van Ve, 39, saw his reduced from 24 to 19 months.

The appeals court did not change the suspended sentences of 15 and 18 months handed down respectively to Vuon's wife Nguyen Thi Thuong, 43, and Quy's wife Pham Thi Bau, 31, for resisting government officials on duty.

Thuong and Bau will remain on probation for an additional 20 and 36 months respectively.

Doan Van Thoai, Vuon's younger brother, and Pham Thai, Quy's brother-in-law, who investigators said last December had reportedly shot towards the revocation team and fled since the resistance, were never arrested and remain at large.

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