Nguyen Van Tan had to learn the hard way that doing business is never easy.
On August 13 last year, only five days after he opened his coffee shop “Xin chao!” (Hello!) in Ho Chi Minh City's Binh Chanh District, police officers showed up from a station right across the street.
They did not come to say hi.
Tan was fined VND17 million (US$800) for running a business without a registration certificate, even after he told the officers that he had already applied for one and would receive the license within days.
The police checked his shop again on September 10 and concluded that Tan broke several regulations on food safety, including “doing business without a food safety and hygiene certificate.” Tan said that certificate would be granted to him at the end of the month.
Binh Chanh police chose not to let the case go. Soon later Colonel Nguyen Van Quy, the district police chief, proposed criminal charges of "doing business illegally” against the shop owner, claiming that he had repeatedly broken the law.
On March 11, district prosecutors decided to pursue the case, officially issuing an indictment. The hearing was scheduled on April 28.
But when Tan was about to appear in court, the case attracted media attention. Multiple outlets picked up the story and since last week the public outcry has only grown stronger.
Many people questioned why Binh Chanh police was so zealous in a case involving a small coffee shop, with some even accusing Quy, the police chief, of having "personal motives."
Amid the outrage, newly-elected Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on April 20 ordered Ho Chi Minh City authorities to review the case.
Nguyen Van Tan smiles at his coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh City's Binh Chanh District after Head of the Supreme People's Procuracy Le Minh Tri ordered Binh Chanh’s prosecutors to drop his case on April 23, 2016. Photo: Cong Nguyen/Thanh Nien
Many lawyers said there is no legal basis for criminal charges in this case. They argued that Tan did not repeatedly break the law because his business had been licensed by the time of the second inspection.
The case also prompted Head of the Supreme People's Procuracy Le Minh Tri to step in. On April 23 Tri ordered Binh Chanh’s prosecutors to drop the case.
Ho Chi Minh City authorities this week suspended the police chief to review his responsibility.
After the suspension, Quy admitted he was wrong.
“I was hasty and mechanical in applying the laws, leading to this mistake,” he told Tuoi Tre newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday.
Quy however rejected accusations that his action stemmed from personal motives.
“Some newspapers and blogs accused me of wiping out Mr. Tan’s cafe so that my wife can sell drinks well at the canteen inside the police office, or claimed that I want to do harm to Tan so that I can buy the land lot where he is leasing. These accusations are spiteful,” Quy said.
The Ho Chi Minh City’s People’s Procuracy is also reviewing the roles of two prosecutors in the case.