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6 Vietnamese railway officials receive jail terms in bribery scandal
By Ha An - Thanh Nien News -
The officials have received US$493,000 from a Japanese consultant in a project funded by Japan, a Hanoi court heard
Six officials speak the last time before the Hanoi People's Court delivers the verdict on Tuesday. Photo: Ha An
A Hanoi court on Tuesday handed down jail terms to six Vietnamese railway officials for receiving VND11 billion (US$493,000) in bribes from a Japanese consultant of a major project funded by Japan.
The officials from Vietnam Railways' project management unit RPMU received sentences ranging from five and a half years to 12 years after the court found them guilty of "abuse of power."
Pham Hai Bang, 46, the then manager of the project and deputy chief of RPMU, was given the longest sentence. 
Pham Quang Duy, 40, former chief of a RPMU’s division, received eight and a half years. Nguyen Nam Thai, 38, Duy’s deputy, got 11 years.
Tran Quoc Dong, 51, Tran Van Luc, 57, and Nguyen Van Hieu, 53, who were RPMU chiefs between 2009 and 2014, received between five and a half years and seven and a half years.
According to the indictment, the officials started receiving the money from Japan Transportation Consultants Inc. (JTC) in September 2009 after RPMU hired JTC for technical consultancy for Hanoi's first urban rail system.
Bang allegedly told JTC that his unit was having financial problems. The Japanese company reportedly offered to give him money.
Between September 2009 and February 2014 a total of VND11 billion had been handed over to Bang, Duy and Thai, prosecutors said.
The money was then used for both official and personal purposes, including entertainment expenses for partners, according to prosecutors.
Dong, Luc and Hieu allegedly received VND30-100 million ($1,300-4,400) each from Bang as "Lunar New Year gifts."
After being arrested last year, all the former chiefs returned the money they received.
The Hanoi court on Tuesday also ordered some assets of the officials to be confiscated.
Bang told the court before the verdict that he was "in pain" because his decades-long carreer had been destroyed by this scandal.
"If the judging panel thinks I'm guilty, then I'm guilty. But I just want the panel to review the case to have a fair judgment"
-- Pham Hai Bang 
"If the judging panel thinks I'm guilty, then I'm guilty. But I just want the panel to review the case to have a fair judgment," he said, in tears. 
The case
Vietnamese authorities started investigating the case after the Japanese media reported in March last year that Tamio Kakinuma, then president of JTC, had admitted his company had bribed civil servants in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Uzbekistan between February 2008 and February 2014 to win bids for five ODA (official development assistance) projects.
In July last year Japanese prosecutors pressed charges against Kakinuma and two other JTC executives for violating antitrust laws by paying kickbacks estimated at 160 million yen ($1.3 million) in total.
The prosecutors believed that half of the money was paid to Vietnamese officials.
After the scandal broke out, the Japanese government suspended new ODA funding for Vietnam in June. It resumed most of the funding two months later on condition that Vietnam investigated all Japanese-funded projects involving JTC and Vietnam Railways and took stronger anti-graft measures.
In April this year the Japan International Cooperation Agency said the Japanese government would not resume funding for the Hanoi railway project until Vietnam returned the money it received for hiring JTC.
The Vietnamese transport ministry has said it will review the contract to estimate its value.