Arsenal caught up in row over Vietnam sponsor
Associated Press in Hanoi
The rubber and timber tycoon sponsoring Arsenal's tour to Vietnam has dismissed allegations his companies are behind widespread environmental and social crimes, and suggested the fact the North London club had made the trip showed they were not that concerned either.
"You can see that the team have come, can't you," Doan Nguyen Duc said, pointing to a hotel ballroom where the club's top players, manager and chief executive had just addressed a packed media conference. "Nothing has happened."
The claims made by Global Witness in an investigation of the practices of the business group run by Duc come in the run-up to tonight's Arsenal match, the first by a Premier League team in the country. Some supporters in Britain have urged the club to sever their links with Duc, one of the richest men in Vietnam, and questioned why the club did not carry out a more thorough check on his business group, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL).
In its May report, Global Witness documented what it said were systemic legal violations by HAGL's rubber plantations in Cambodia and Laos last year.
The report alleged that the company had acquired vast amounts of land, almost five times the maximum legal limit in Cambodia, and ignored environmental and social safeguards, devastating local livelihoods and forests.
Asked about the findings, Duc said "90 per cent" of the information in the report was wrong, and the governments of Laos and Cambodia had issued statements supporting him.
In a statement before Duc's latest comments, Arsenal said they had discussed "the situation" with Duc's company and Global Witness, which says it exposes natural-resource related corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses, and was "monitoring developments". At the news conference, Arsenal manger Arsene Wenger and chief executive Ivan Gazidis both thanked and praised Duc, who Wenger said he first met seven years ago.
As well as sponsoring the tour, Arsenal have partnered with Duc, who is the president of a local team, in establishing a training academy for youth players in central Vietnam.