Vietnam communications minister suspended over suspect TV deal

Minister of Information and Communications Truong Minh Tuan had shown a ‘lack of responsibility and poor leadership’ over Mobifone’s purchase of AVG television company

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 July, 2018, 5:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 July, 2018, 6:08pm

Vietnam’s communications minister was suspended Monday for overseeing a proposed deal to buy a loss-making private TV company which could have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

The rare and severe punishment is part of the communist government’s widening corruption crackdown targeting high-rolling executives and officials in a country unused to seeing the powerful publicly toppled.

Minister of Information and Communications Truong Minh Tuan was suspended in a decision signed by the president for “violations”, the government said on its website without elaborating.

The statement follows an earlier decision from the Communist Party to punish Tuan, 57, for showing a “lack of responsibility and poor leadership” over the deal.

Tuan is accused of overseeing the purchase by the state-run Mobifone telecommunications giant of the private AVG television company.

Mobifone bought 95 per cent of Audio Visual Global (AVG) in 2015 for around US$385 million, even though the company had recorded losses of about US$70 million.

The government said the purchase could have caused US$303 million in losses for the state had not before officials stepped in to halt the final deal and order AVG to refund the purchase price.

Tuan spent decades climbing the ranks of the Communist Party, serving 30 years in the propaganda department before being appointed deputy communications minister in 2014 and then minister in 2016.

Monday’s announcement did not say whether Tuan would face criminal charges or whether he would retain his other role as deputy head of the party’s propaganda department.

Mobifone’s former head Le Nam Tra and a senior communications ministry official were arrested earlier this month in connection with the case, but have not yet been charged.

Tuan is among the most senior officials to be punished under the government’s anti-corruption sweep, which has captivated a country where politicians are seen as untouchable.

The campaign – led by a hardline leadership in power since 2016 – has sent a chill through political circles and the business community in one of Asia’s most corrupt countries.

Sitting politburo member Dinh La Thang was handed two corruption convictions this year in a case that shocked the nation and is now serving 30 years in jail.

Also convicted was Trinh Xuan Thanh, who was kidnapped from a Berlin park by Vietnam security agents and bundled into a van before returning to Vietnam to face corruption charges.

Thanh is currently serving two life sentences. Hanoi insists he returned voluntarily but the case has badly bruised ties with Germany.

Both Thanh and Thang worked in the state-run oil sector, which has been a main target of the anti-corruption crackdown so far.

Vietnam is ranked 107 out of 180 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, among the lowest in the region.