Vietnam jails 2 ex-ministers over COVID test kits scandal

HANOI (Reuters) – A court in Vietnam jailed two former cabinet ministers on Friday and found dozens of officials guilty of bribery and mismanagement for their roles in a coronavirus test kit scandal, the ministry of public security said.

Former Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long was sentenced to 18 years in prison for taking bribes worth $2.25 million, while Chu Ngoc Anh, former science and technology minister, was jailed for three years for mismanagement, the security ministry said in a statement.

At the heart of the scandal was a private medical firm called Viet A Technology Corp, which was accused of colluding with officials to produce coronavirus test kits for the state health system that were sold at inflated prices.

“I was wrong, I am sorry,” Long was quoted by Phap Luat Online newspaper as saying at the trial. Reuters could not immediately reach Long’s lawyers for comment.

The verdicts comes as Vietnam intensifies its years-long anti-graft campaign that has seen hundreds of senior officials investigated for corruption, with many forced to quit, including former president and premier Nguyen Xuan Phuc and two deputy prime ministers.

Viet A founder and chief executive Phan Quoc Viet was given a 29-year sentence at the week-long trial, in addition to a 25-year term handed down in a separate trial in late December, it added.

Viet A had sold 4.5 million COVID-19 test kits in Vietnam during the pandemic at prices three times higher than their real cost and had illegally generated 1.23 trillion dong ($50.25 million), the ministry said.

The court also handed down sentences ranging from 18 months of probation to 15 years in prison term to 35 others, mostly disease control officials in cities and provinces for their involvement in the scandal, the ministry said.

($1 = 24,480 dong)

(Reporting by Khanh Vu; Editing by Martin Petty)