Vietnam court sentences ex-minister to life in MobiFone corruption scandal

Vietnamese former minister of information and communication Nguyen Bac Son stands as a judge reads the verdicts at his trial in Vietnam on Dec 28, 2019. PHOTO: AP

HANOI (REUTERS) - A court in Vietnam on Saturday (Dec 28) sentenced a former information minister to life in prison after finding him guilty of taking US$3 million (S$4.06 million) in bribes in connection with a controversial deal at state telecoms firm MobiFone.

Nguyen Bac Son received the money to facilitate a deal in which MobiFone overpaid for a 95 per cent stake in a loss-making pay television provider, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement.

The court also sentenced another former information minister, Truong Minh Tuan, to 14 years in prison, who was accused of economic mismanagement and taking bribes in the same case, according to the statement.

MobiFone, one of Vietnam's three largest mobile carriers by subscription, bought the stake in Audio Visual Global JSC for nearly 8.9 trillion dong (S$520 million) in late 2015.

The government suffered "serious financial losses" as a result of the transaction, the statement said.

The MobiFone case is the largest corruption investigation so far in Vietnam's anti-graft campaign that has already engulfed hundreds of government officials.

Audio Visual Global JSC chairman Pham Nhat Vu was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of paying the bribes to Son, Tuan, MobiFone executives and other government officials, the statement said.

The court also sentenced 11 other defendants to between two and 23 years in prison for their involvement in the case.

Reuters could not immediately reach their lawyers for comment.

A plan to sell a stake in MobiFone has long been touted as one of the most anticipated in Vietnam's drive to privatise state-owned companies, but it has yet to materialise.

The government said earlier it would sell a stake of up to 50 per cent in MobiFone by the end of 2020.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.