Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security has recommended prosecuting dozens of mostly senior officials in connection with an embarrassing corruption scandal involving government-organized COVID-19 repatriation flights.
According to a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA), which cited Vietnamese state media, the ministry’s Investigation Security Agency has called 54 people to be charged with giving bribes, receiving bribes, brokering bribes, “abusing titles and powers,” and appropriating assets by fraud. The agency said that it had completed its probe of the scheme and submitted its findings to the Supreme People’s Procuracy, which will carry out the prosecutions.
The announcement follows a year-long investigation into the alleged extraction of extortionate fees for seats on flights organized to bring home Vietnamese citizens stranded abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to RFA, the recommended charges stem from a case against former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung, who reportedly approved the plans to organize repatriation flights, based on proposals by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Consular Department. Dung is accused of receiving 21.5 billion dong ($915,000) in bribes to add companies to a list of providers of repatriation flights, of which the government ultimately organized some 400. These subsequently yielded considerable “profits” for those involved with the scheme. Last June, the Ministry of Public Security put this at several billion Vietnamese dong per flight. (1 billion dong is worth around $43,600.)
The 54 defendants include a range of senior party and government roles, including former Vice Foreign Minister Vu Hong Nam, who served as ambassador to Japan at the time of the scandal, and is accused of receiving 1.8 billion dong ($76,600) as part of the organization of repatriation flights from Japan to Vietnam. The roster also includes officials from the ministries of public health, transport, and public security, Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) officials in Hanoi and Quang Nam province, and the deputy director general of the Hanoi police force, who is accused of taking bribes to protect two businesspeople from prosecution for their role in the grift.
The flight scandal, which has believed to have generated an estimated $200 million in illicit income for those involved, has already contributed to the resignation of Vietnam’s president and has prompted a spate of arrests, reprimands, and expulsions from the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV).
It was one of two COVID-19-related graft cases – the other involved overpriced COVID-19 test kits – that prompted the forced resignation in January of President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and the cashiering of two of the country’s four deputy prime ministers, including former Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. It also led to a purge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which consular officials posted to embassies in Russia, Malaysia, Angola, and Japan were sacked and expelled from the CPV. Other officials, including the current ambassador to Malaysia, the former ambassador to India, and the consul general in Fukuoka, Japan, were reprimanded.
The mass arrests, resignations, and sackings marked a crescendo in the years-long “burning furnace” anti-graft campaign waged by CPV General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. The recommendation of charges suggests that the CPV, led by Trong’s attack dogs in the Ministry of Public Security are keen to close out the case and march forward into an era of putatively cleaner and more upstanding rule under a new generation of CPV leaders. However, the fact that such scandals continue to take place, seven years after Trong first launched his anti-corruption crusade, suggests that this is unlikely to be the last high-profile graft scandal to taint the party’s blood-red façade.