The former head of a beleaguered Vietnamese state shipping company sentenced to death for corruption has dropped a bombshell at a court hearing, saying he paid bribes to top officials of the ruling Communist Party in a futile bid to avoid arrest and prosecution, according to state media Wednesday.
Duong Tri Dung's testimony that he paid U.S. $500,000 to Deputy Minister of Public Security Pham Quy Ngo and unknown amounts to other senior officials has triggered calls for a new probe following the near collapse of Vinalines under U.S. $3 billion of debt, the media reports said.
"I think they need to put the trial on hold and send the whole case to the prosecutors’ office to look into what Pham Quy Ngo said [on the issue]," a Vietnamese lawyer, Tran Vu Hai, told RFA's Vietnamese Service as he analyzed the media reports, which had described Dung's revelations as "shocking."
Dung made the charges in a Hanoi court during the trial of his brother Duong Tu Trong, a former senior police official in the northern port of Hai Phong, who was on Wednesday sentenced to 18 years in prison for aiding his escape.
The high-level bribery claims are surely to cause further embarrassment to the Communist Party leadership blamed for the mismanagement of state-owned enterprises, which are responsible for some two-thirds of the country’s economic capital and assets.
Dung, who was last month sentenced to death for embezzlement, fled the country when Vinalines was on the verge of collapse but was arrested in September 2012 in Cambodia and deported home.
Appearing at Tuesday's hearing for his brother, who allegedly led a group that helped Dung flee from Vietnam to avoid arrest, the former Vinalines head said that Ngo had phoned him in May 2012, informing him that he had been indicted and advising him to hide for a while, state-run Tuoi Tre news website reported Wednesday.
Dung, 56, also told the court that he had offered bribes to many high-ranking officials from the Ministry of Public Security to avoid being investigated over the purchase of an old floating dock from Russia at an unusually high price in 2008, the report said.
He said that he had told Ngo about the purchase of the dock and asked him for help.
Ngo said he would help, the report said, adding that Dung gave him an envelope containing U.S. $10,000 and a bag containing U.S. $500,000 on separate occasions, according to Tuoi Tre.
In addition, Dung said that he received U.S. $1 million from a director of Ho Chih Minh City-based firm Van Thinh Phat that was later handed to Ngo in relation to a project at the Saigon Port.
Order for claims to be investigated
Hanoi judicial authorities had proposed that the court request concerned agencies to investigate Dung's allegations against Ngo which Tuoi Tre reported would be classified as "deliberate revealing of state secrets" — punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Ngo has denied the allegations, according to the VNExpress online newspaper.
Lawyer Hai told RFA said that as the trial had accepted Dung's testimony, "obviously they need to consider what he said in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code of Vietnam and to begin the process for the new case [of the alleged involvement of Pham Quy Ngo]."
"In this case, Ngo is the head of the group investigating corruption in Vinalines, so he played an important role in this investigation. We can consider this as a violation of judicial activities," Hai said, referring particularly to testimony that Ngo had tipped off Dung of his impending arrest and advised him to "hide."
"Also according to Dung, he already gave money to Ngo. If this is true, then they need to start a new case," Hai said.
However, he said Dung’s testimony alone may not be enough to indict Ngo.
"We still need more evidence to prove the testimony," he said. "Ngo has a responsibility to answer the public about the accusations."
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.