Two former HCMC government officials embroiled in a corruption scandal that led to the Japanese government suspending aid to Vietnam were sentenced to three and two years in prison on Friday.
Huynh Ngoc Si, the former director of the Japan-funded East-West Highway and the Water Environment Improvement projects, and his deputy Le Qua, were charged with “abuse of power.”
Si was sentenced three years and Qua two years in prison.
Si was deputy director of the HCMC Transport Department and responsible for overseeing the East-West Highway Project, the city's largest infrastructure development and one that was funded by Japanese aid.
Procurators said the former officials rented a house in HCMC’s District 3 to executives from Japan’s Pacific Consultants International (PCI), who paid $5,000 a month to use the property as an office. PCI officials paid a total $80,000 in rent in 2001 and 2002.
The house was owned by the project, but Si and Qua were found guilty of pocketing the ‘rent money’ instead of passing it on to the project management board.
The two have inexplicably not been charged with corruption, but with the vaguely worded ‘abuse of power’ for misappropriating municipal resources.
Si and Qua were arrested on February 11, after the Ministry of Public Security began a corruption investigation into the two infrastructure projects, estimated to cost US$930.9 million. But that investigation only came about after an official request by the Tokyo Procuracy, when PCI executives admitted in a Tokyo court they had bribed the former director of the projects to win consulting contracts.
Si was accused of taking bribes from PCI - which has a checkered history on acquiring contracts for Japanese funded infrastructure projects in developing countries - in exchange for awarding the company consulting contracts on the two projects here.
The fallout from the trail in Tokyo and Hanoi’s slow response in starting an inquiry led to Japan suspending its Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding to Vietnam last December.
However, some sitting courtside at the trial were unhappy with what they perceived as soft sentencing by the court and want the “corruption” allegations against Huynh Ngoc Si by PCI executives to be brought to light. Instead, the accusations of the Japanese executives were completely ignored at the trial.
“The corruption scandal broke out after PCI executives were punished for giving bribes to win the East-West Highway project contract,” said lawyer Truong Xuan Tam, a member of the Vietnam National Lawyers Council.
“(The) Vietnamese officials were only charged with misusing public houses. “I feel unsatisfied.”
Norimasa Tahara, a reporter from Japanese daily Yomiuri, told Tuoi Tre that regardless of the severity of the sentence the corruption allegations need to be cleared up.
Last December, Japan suspended its aid funding to Vietnam until the government took "meaningful" steps to eliminate corruption in public works programs.
Japan’s ODA program to Vietnam was resumed in early April.