Vietnam jails officials for Japan aid graft scandal

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnam jailed six railway officials for up to 12 years each on Tuesday (Oct 27), a court official said, over their roles in a corruption scandal that saw Japan temporarily suspend official development aid.

The six defendants, all former officials at the Vietnam Railways Corporation, were found guilty of taking bribes of up to US$490,000 (S$683,000) dollars from a Japanese consulting firm, the clerk told AFP.

"They were charged with abuse of power," he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Japan, one of the largest donors to the communist country, suspended official development aid in March 2013 after the head of Tokyo-based Japan Transportation Consultants (JTC) admitted to bribery.

Tamio Kakinuma, 65, told Japanese prosecutors he paid some 80 million yen to Vietnamese officials to win work on Hanoi's future overground rail link, a project worth some 4.2 billion yen.

The court in Hanoi did not explain the difference between the US$790,000 sum Kakinuma confessed to paying and the US$490,000 figure the Vietnamese officials were convicted over.

After Kakinuma's admission, Vietnamese police arrested the six men, including Tran Quoc Dong, then the deputy general director of the state-run Vietnam Railways.

On Tuesday, after a two-day trial in Hanoi, Dong was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail, while the man accused of masterminding the corruption scheme was given a 12-year sentence, the clerk told AFP.

The officials' behaviour violated Vietnam's anti-corruption law and "badly influenced relations between Vietnam and Japan," the court president said, according to the VNExpress news site.

JTC, which was involved in several official development aid programs, was found to have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to officials in Vietnam, Uzbekistan and Indonesia, Japanese media reported at the time.

In Dec 2008, Japan suspended aid to Vietnam for four months during a similar scandal that led to a 20-year jail term for the deputy head of Ho Chi Minh City's transport department.

That official was accused of taking up to US$262,000 in 2003 from Tokyo-based Pacific Consultants International in connection with a major infrastructure project - a highway linking the east and west of the city - backed by Japanese aid money.

Japan resumed official development aid to Vietnam after the most recent suspension in July 2014.

Vietnam ranks as one of the world's most corrupt nations.

The one-party state has been rocked by a number of high-profile corruption scandals in recent years, with graft and huge debts at giant state-run companies accused of fuelling the country's economic woes.