Nguyen Bac Son, who led the Ministry of Information and Communications between 2011 and 2016, has been sentenced to life in prison for accepting a US$3 million bribe in connection with MobiFone's murky TV firm acquisition deal.
The Hanoi People’s Court this morning, December 28, delivered its verdict for the former 66-year-old minister and 13 others for their involvement in the now-cancelled deal that saw the MIC’s MobiFone Telecommunications Corporation overpay for a 95% stake in the private pay TV provider Audio Visual Global JSC (AVG), reported the local media.
The panel of judges said that Son was the mastermind behind the stake acquisition deal. The then-MobiFone general director Cao Duy Hai, 58, had repeatedly told Son that the project had serious issues.
Hai warned of the financial risk facing the project, but Son ignored Hai and issued instructions to carry out the acquisition.
In a draft, Son left out a line which asked the member board of MobiFone to decide on the price of the deal.
Speaking to the court, Pham Dinh Trong, 49, former head of the MIC’s Department of Corporate Management, cited then-MobiFone board chairman Le Nam Tra, 58, at a meeting as saying that if MobiFone was in charge of the pricing, the corporation would not execute the project.
After the deal was completed in 2015, Son received the US$3 million bribe in cash at his residence in Hanoi from then-AVG chairman Pham Nhat Vu, aged 47.
It was not until yesterday, December 27, one day ahead of the verdict, that Son’s family handed over a second payment worth VND45 billion, or US$2 million. Early this week, they paid back VND21 billion in the first tranche.
The court said that since his family had returned VND66 billion (US$3 million) of the bribe on his behalf to the State budget, the death penalty recommended by the municipal People’s Procuracy was commuted to life imprisonment.
Aside from the passive bribery charge, the former Cabinet member was given 16 years behind bars for breaking regulations on the management and use of public investment leading to serious consequences. As such, the total sentence was life.
His 59-year-old successor, Truong Minh Tuan, was sentenced to six years in prison for his economic mismanagement and eight years for taking a US$200,000 bribe from Vu, bringing the total to 14 years. Tuan took up the ministerial post in 2016, before being suspended in July 2018.
Judges said during Tuan’s time as deputy minister he agreed with a stake acquisition proposal from Trong, and followed the instructions of the then-minister to sign documents related to the implementation of the project.
Tuan approved the deal without official word from the then-Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. In addition, competent agencies could not have a chance to appraise the price of the deal and the investment efficiency of the project.
Consequently, MobiFone went ahead with the execution of the project, and signed the stake transfer agreement and contract with AVG, leading to more than VND6.59 trillion (US$283 million) in State losses.
Former AVG chairman gets three years in jail
Given various extenuating circumstances, former AVG chairman Vu was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of bribery – a sentence which was much lower than the standard jail time.
In addition to the ex-ministers, he offered former MobiFone board chairman Tra US$2.5 million and former MobiFone general director Hai US$500,000.
The panel of judges said Vu was aware of AVG’s poor financial performance, in which the firm was suffering losses, was heavily in debt, and whose assets had a low value.
However, he still intended to sell AVG at a high price, so he told the leaders of the ministry and MobiFone that AVG was offloading its stake to a foreign partner at US$700 million, and already received a deposit of US$10 million.
Given the active involvement of other defendants, Vu reached an agreement on the price of the deal, signed the contract, and received the proceedings from MobiFone.
As the Government Inspectorate uncovered irregularities associated with the deal in March 2018, he proactively offset all of the losses. MobiFone and AVG decided to terminate the transfer of 344.66 million shares and refund each other, between April and August that year.
As a result, MobiFone recovered more than VND8.774 trillion from AVG shareholders, where VND8.445 trillion covered the value of the deal and VND115 billion covered the lost interest due to money from MobiFone’s term deposits withdrawn ahead of their maturity dates.
The former chairman of the State-run telecom giant, Tra, was sentenced to 23 years in jail while former general director Hai received a jail term of 14 years. The two were found guilty of the two charges.
Trong of MIC’s Department of Corporate Management was sentenced to five years for economic mismanagement. He had proposed the stake acquisition to the ex-minister Son.
Phan Thi Hoa Mai, 53, and Ho Tuan, 54, ex-members of MobiFone’s council, and former deputy general directors of the telco – Pham Thi Phuong Anh, 44; Nguyen Bao Long, 47 and Nguyen Manh Hung, 50 – received jail terms of two years and six months each.
Another former deputy general director, Nguyen Dang Nguyen, 43, who was the acting general director after the arrest of Hai in November 2018, received two years in prison for his lesser role.
Nguyen had refused to pay the remaining 5% of the stake acquisition contract, resulting in it being unable to be liquidated, and thus paving the way to cancel it.
Two defendants were from AMAX Valuation and Investment Consultancy Co., Ltd, which did the valuation of AVG. Former director Vo Van Manh, 43, was jailed for three years and six months, while valuer Hoang Duy Quang, 36, is to spend three years in prison. SGT
Family of former Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Bac Son has returned VND21 billion (nearly US$903,000), part of the bribes he had received from former AVG chairman Pham Nhat Vu.