Vietnam's high-profile embezzlement investigation may be suspended

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The Fatherland Front, an umbrella group of all public organizations in Vietnam, has called for prosecutors to suspend investigations into a high-profile case where a government-honored farm director was charged with running a slush fund.

In the latest letter sent to the People's Supreme Procuracy, the Front's central committee suggested dealing with the alleged wrongdoings of Tran Ngoc Suong, former director of the state-owned Song Hau collective farm in the Mekong Delta City of Can Tho, with civic and administrative measures, Tuoi Tre reported Thursday.

Early this month, prosecutors in Can Tho charged Suong, 62, with running an illegal fund worth more than VND10 billion (US$480,770) at the farm and spending VND5 billion out of the fund between 2001 and 2007.

However, the VFF central committee said the charges against Suong, who was named a Labor Hero by the government in 2000, had no legal or practical basis, the newspaper quoted the letter as saying.

The committee said the alleged illegal fund at Song Hau was established in 1994, six years before Suong was appointed as the farm's director. She didn't initiate the fund's establishment, and didn't run it between 1994-2000, it said.

Moreover, the fund was actually established in 1979 by the farm's worker union, and its income didn't come from the state, said the committee. The money was mainly spent to support the farm's operations, according to the committee.

"We are yet to find any regulation at that time banning the establishment of such fund," Tuoi Tre quoted the letter as saying.

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"It's impossible to consider an action that isn't prohibited and mentioned under law as illegal," the letter read.

The case is "very complicated" and unclear, the committee wrote. The letter said the case had provoking a variety of oppinions, especially because many laws on state management of the economy had been changed from 1994 to 2007.

Thus, a more historical view of the case must be taken, the committee said.

According to Tuoi Tre, the VFF committee also said that its proposals are in accordance with criminal laws and in consideration of Suong and her family's contributions to Song Hau farm.

The investigation is sullying the name of the farm, which has a fine reputation among senior government officials, and has gained outstanding achievements, the committee said.

In fact, ever since the investigation began in 2008, the case has attracted controversy with several senior leaders weighing in.

Former vice president Nguyen Thi Binh called Suong's initial prison sentence unjust, adding that the slush fund was actually a welfare fund for the collective she had administered.

Several other high-ranking officials also spoke out in defense of Suong, who was given eight-year-jail term by Co Do District People's Court in Can Tho in August 2009.

Four of her subordinates, including her deputy chief accountant, cashier and accountant, were then sentenced to between 18 months probation to six years imprisonment as well.

Suong later lodged an appeal against the verdict, saying it was unlawful and unjust.

In November 2009, the Can Tho City People's Court upheld the district court's sentence and ordered Suong to return VND4.3 billion ($206,000) to the government.

Suong maintained her innocence and in April 2010 Vietnam's central prosecutor found the investigation leading to her conviction tainted by procedural violations.

In May 2010, the Supreme People's Court nullified the verdict and called for a fresh investigation into the charges.

In February 2011, investigators of the Can Tho Police Department maintained the embezzlement charges against Suong and her subordinates.

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