Vietnam jails former deputy foreign minister, diplomats in mass bribery trial

HANOI (Reuters) – A Vietnamese court on Friday jailed 54 people, including a former deputy foreign minister and several senior diplomats, in one of the country’s largest ever bribery cases amid a crackdown on graft, state media reported.

The convicted were found guilty of taking part in a scheme where diplomats and companies took money from Vietnamese citizens abroad who wanted to return to the country on “rescue flights” during the COVID-19 pandemic, when commercial flights were not available.

The trial marks the latest escalation of the government’s anti-graft campaign, under which hundreds of officials have been investigated and many forced to quit, including former president Nguyen Xuan Phuc and two deputy prime ministers.

Of the convicted, 25 state officials were found guilty of receiving bribes totalling up to 175 billion dong ($7.40 million), state-run newspaper VTC reported.

Among them, former deputy foreign minister To Anh Dung was sentenced to 16 years in prison, after he was found guilty of taking 21.5 billion dong of bribes, according to VTC.

Former Vietnamese ambassador to Japan Vu Hong Nam was also sentenced to 30 months in prison, while former Vietnamese ambassador to Malaysia Tran Viet Thai was handed a four year jail term.

Pham Trung Kien, assistant to a deputy minister of health, received a life sentence. Prosecutors had sought a death sentence for him after he was found guilty of receiving more than 42.6 billion dong of bribes.

Others convicted included officials from the government office and the ministries of health, public security and transport, among others.

The trial started on July 11 and lasted for 18 days, 12 days less than scheduled.

($1 = 23,661 dong)

(Reporting by Khanh Vu; Editing by Mark Potter)