Pham Nhat Vu, former chairman of private pay TV firm Audio Visual Global JSC, at a police station in April 2019. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security.
Police with the Ministry of Public Security said while Vu bribed officials to take favorable decisions in the acquisition by state-owned telecom giant MobiFone, he has proactively cooperated with authorities, done a lot of charitable work, and returned the money involved, minimizing losses to the state.
Vu gave bribes of $3 million to the former Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Bac Son; $2.5 million to MobiFone's former chairman Le Nam Tra; $500,000 to the telecom giant's former CEO Cao Duy Hai and $200,000 to another former information minister, Truong Minh Tuan, then serving as Son's deputy.
Since the value of the bribes exceeding VND1 billion ($430,000), he would normally face 12-20 years in prison under Vietnam's Penal Code.
Investigators however have recommended that the special clemency policy be applied to Vu during his prosecution and trial as he had actively cooperated throughout the investigation, made many contributions to the Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam, engaged in other social welfare activities, proactively canceled the contract to transfer AVG to MobiFone and willingly returned the VND8.9 trillion ($384 million) that the telecom giant had paid to acquire his TV firm.
His actions have contributed to minimizing losses to the state, investigators said.
Investigators have also recommended that the clemency policy be applied to 11 other defendants in the case, including former information minister Tuan, former MobiFone chairman Tra, former head of the information ministry's Department of Enterprise Management Pham Dinh Trong, and several of MobiFone's former deputy general directors.
The clemency policy is usually applied to defendants who actively cooperate with law enforcement agencies and voluntarily confess their crimes. It allows defendants to be given lesser punishments than prescribed by the law.
In Vu's instance, instead of facing 12-20 years in prison, he could receive a sentence of 6-36 months, 2-7 years or 7-12 years, which are normally reserved for giving bribes of VND2 million-100 million, VND100 million-500 million and VND500 million-1 billion respectively.
For two others accused in the case, former minister Son and Vo Van Manh, former director of AMAX Investment Consultancy and Valuation Co. Ltd., investigators have used the standard recommendation for the court to "consider mitigating circumstances," instead of the special clemency policy.
All the accused except Vu have been charged with "violating regulations on the management and use of public capital leading to serious consequences." Additionally, Son, Tuan, Tra and Hai have been charged with "taking bribes" while Vu has been charged with "giving bribes."
The recommendations were made after the Ministry of Public Security completed investigations into the management and use of public capital involving MobiFone, Vietnam’s third largest telecom firm, and certain divisions of the information ministry, in a case that has made headlines since 2016.
The nexus came to light after the state-run MobiFone broke into the pay TV market with the acquisition of a 95 percent stake in AVG in 2016.
But government inspectors concluded that the deal had violated public investment laws and caused an estimated loss of about VND7 trillion ($300 million) to the state budget.
Son, then serving as the information minister, directly approved MobiFone's acquisition of AVG against regulations and asked subordinates to sign documents in contravention of regulations, investigations found.
As a deputy information minister from 2011 to 2016, Tuan signed a decision to approve the acquisition without the prime minister’s approval.
Son and Tuan were arrested in February while Vu was arrested in April.
Since the launch of the investigation, investigators have recovered VND54 billion from Tra, VND11.6 billion from Hai and seized two properties belonging to Son and Tuan, as well as frozen Son's, Tuan's and Tra's bank accounts containing VND4.5 billion in total.
This has been a major case in the corruption crackdown spearheaded by Party General Secretary and President Nguyen Phu Trong. The campaign has seen scores of officials and top businesspeople arrested and sent to jail in recent years. Trong has said that there will be no let up in the anti-corruption drive.
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