On December 11, a Vietnamese closed court sentenced former Hanoi Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung to five years in prison on charges of “appropriating documents of state secrets,” according to Reuters news agency. Observers told VOA that such a verdict is “too light.”
Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that when the court allowed the press to enter the courtroom during the verdict’s announcement, the Trial Panel accused Mr. Chung of “masterminding, directing and repeatedly receiving documents on the Nhat Cuong case through investigator Pham Quang Dung.”
This page quoted the court stating that Mr. Chung had “a main role” in the case, but had “admitted the offense” and “sincerely testified and had a repentant attitude.”
“Mr. Chung has many mitigating circumstances, such as being commended and rewarded by all levels for his outstanding performance, awarded the title Hero of the People’s Armed Forces, a history of cancer … so the court panel gave him lighter sentence for the indictment,” said Tuoi Tre newspaper.
Mr. Nguyen Duc Chung, who is being considered by the Politburo to be expelled from the Party, allegedly linked up with Mr. Pham Quang Dung, an investigative officer of the Ministry of Public Security, to obtain information and documents during the process of investigating the Nhat Cuong case. Mr. Dung was also sentenced to 4 years and 6 months in prison for “appropriating documents of state secrets” in court on December 11. Two other defendants, Mr. Chung’s private driver and former deputy chief of the editorial department of the Hanoi People’s Committee Office, were also imprisoned in this case.
Commenting on a 5-year prison sentence given for Mr. Chung, lawyer Le Quoc Quan in Hanoi, told VOA:
“The 5-year sentence is too light. He is prosecuted under Clause 3, Article 337 ‘Appropriation of classified state documents’ with a penalty of 10-15 years in prison. Apparently, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison at the first instance and may get an even lighter sentence in his appeal.
Thus, a 5-year sentence is very light compared to the offense, and compared with the prosecution of the Procuracy.”
Lawyer Le Quoc Quan added that the important positions that Mr. Chung held in the past could cause the court to impose such a rather mild sentence:
“For such a former city’s chairman, conferred on the Armed Forces Hero, and used to have such an important role in the Ministry of Public Security, I think they don’t want to impose hard sentence on him.”
Mr. Nguyen Duc Chung in a press conference while in office.
Mr. Nguyen Duc Chung was formerly a police major general. Before his arrest, Mr. Chung was director of the Hanoi City Police Department during the 2012-2016 period, a member of the National Assembly for the 2011-2016 tenure, member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and deputy secretary of the Hanoi City Party Committee and then the chairman of the Hanoi People’s Committee.
General comments on the Vietnamese judiciary and the issue of the rule of law through the December 11 trial, attorney Le Quoc Quan said:
“The uplift of the law in Vietnam is very complicated and difficult because there is only one party leading in Vietnam – the Vietnamese Communist Party leads absolutely and comprehensively, and they lead the judiciary and the courts. Therefore, the judgments are made according to the Party’s direction – if the need is high, the direction is high, if the need is low, the direction is low.”
From Germany, lawyer Nguyen Van Dai said in a Facebook video on December 11 that Mr. Nguyen Duc Chung was a “rising star” in Vietnamese politics, with “words coupled with works” but was trapped in the regime’s politics and” fallen horse “on the track to the Politburo seat before the 13th Party National Congress.
“The reason is that the Vietnamese Communist dictatorship today – under economic pressure and various issues – has been divided, and no longer united as a united bloc as it was used several decades ago. When they fight for their interests, they have to fire each other!” Mr. Nguyen Van Dai said.
According to the Ministry of Public Security, Mr. Chung is also involved in two other cases that have not been adjudicated: the case of “Smuggling,” “Violation of accounting regulations causes serious consequences,” “Money laundering,” and “Violation regulations on bidding cause serious consequences” occurred at Nhat Cuong Company, the Hanoi Department of Planning and Investment and a number of related units; as well as his role in the case of “Violation of the regulations on the management and use of state property causes loss and waste” occurred in Hanoi.
Lawyer Le Quoc Quan, who once being imprisoned for tax evasion, said that “it is very sad” to compare the sentence of Nguyen Duc Chung to the harsh sentences that the government has imposed on democracy and human rights in Vietnam. In the case of activist Le Dinh Luong, for example, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison – the highest sentence for the activists – just because he fought and spoke up for the basic rights of the people.