The brother of a prominent Vietnamese dissident lawyer detained on tax evasion charges said attorneys have been refused access to court documents ahead of his trial next month, as rights groups appealed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to pressure Hanoi for his release.
Le Quoc Quyet told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the legal team representing his older brother Le Quoc Quan, who is also a blogger, had experienced frequent standoffs with the authorities over legal documents since his case was transferred to the Hanoi People’s Court in April.
“The lawyers have faced constant obstruction when trying to access case documents,” Quyet said, adding that the defense had only been notified last week by the court of his brother’s July 9 trial date.
“Lawyer Tran Thu Nam was only given a chance to make copies of the whole set of documents on June 13,” he said.
Quan, 41, was arrested for tax fraud in December but rights groups believe he was held as part of a political vendetta waged by Vietnamese authorities.
According to Quyet, the authorities are bound by law to try a person facing tax charges within 45 days of their case having been transferred to the courts.
“The case documents have been at court for more than two months, and the trial will take place on July 9, exactly three months after they were submitted,” he said.
“It should have been a maximum of 45 days for Quan’s case, according to law. The coming trial is still based on the same charges of tax fraud.”
Quyet said that his family had submitted several petitions, complaints and requests on behalf of Quan, who was arrested as he brought his children to school in Hanoi, but that none of them had received an official response in writing.
“I’ve never seen any case in which [the authorities] have been as abusive as they have been with Quan, and in such strange ways,” he said, adding that the government had targeted Quan’s investment research firm with the intent of shutting it down.
“They charged him with tax fraud but they confiscated his stamp to conduct business. That’s totally against the law. Their intent is to destroy the company and stop its operation.”
He said Quan’s business, Solutions Vietnam Co. Ltd., should have continued running while he was detained, as the allegations of tax fraud have nothing to do with his company as an entity.
Quyet said that his brother was in good health, despite holding two separate hunger strikes since his detention last year.
“He is actively refusing to cooperate [with police] because he said they have an evil motive in falsely accusing him of tax fraud.”
Human Rights Watch said that the Vietnamese authorities have been pursuing a political vendetta against Quan for several years and that the tax evasion charges came “out of nowhere.”
Tax evasion, a charge under Article 161 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code, is frequently used by the one-party communist state to jail and silence government critics. If convicted, Quan risks three years in prison and a heavy fine.
According to the official Tuoi Tre news agency, investigators say Quan directed his staff to create fake consulting contracts with economic experts in a bid to raise the company’s operational costs and pay less corporate income taxes.
They also suspect that the company created false invoices for services from seven companies which were later used as part of a declaration for a value added tax deduction.
The report said that Quan had dodged some 437.5 million dong (U.S. $21,000) in taxes.
Quan’s other brother, Le Dinh Quan, was also arrested in October last year for tax evasion and is currently detained in Hoa Lo Prison No. 3.
Ahead of Quan’s trial, a group of 12 rights groups and NGOs sent an open letter to Kerry, asking him to pressure Vietnam on Quan’s release.
The signatories—which included Freedom House, National Endowment for Democracy, and Reporters Without Borders—asked Kerry to raise the issue during the 20th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in Brunei on July 2, which Vietnamese officials will attend.
“We understand that you will attend the ASEAN conference later this month, and we sincerely hope that the opportunity will arise for you to discuss this matter with representatives of the Vietnamese Government,” the letter, dated June 17, said.
The NGOs highlighted Quan’s arbitrary detention “due to having exercised his right to freedom of expression, his right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, as well as his activities as a human rights defender.”
They said that “international attention is of key importance to Mr. Quan,” adding that U.S. pressure would “hopefully result in the end of his current detention.”
Quan, a Catholic in the majority Buddhist nation, was jailed for three months in 2007 for participating in "activities to overthrow the people's government," but he was released following protests from the United States.
In August last year, Quan was severely beaten by police in an attack which prompted U.S.-based Human Rights Watch to call for a full investigation.
In addition to writing his blogs, Quan was heavily involved in a string of anti-China demonstrations last year over Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.