Health minister, deputy foreign minister sacked and arrested . . .
Two corruption probes related to Vietnam’s official response to the COVID-19 pandemic have reached the highest echelons of the government. On June 7, Health Minister Nguyễn Thanh Long was sacked and arrested for allegedly participating in a price-gouging scheme for COVID-19 tests and embezzling more than C$220 million from state funds. In April, Deputy Foreign Minister Tô Anh Dũng was arrested for receiving bribes concerning official repatriation flights for overseas Vietnamese nationals in 2020, through which he and other officials raked in C$112 million. Though Vietnam is not the only country in Asia where corruption spiked during the pandemic, the two scandals are notable for their high-profile and widespread nature.
More than 60 officials, 15 provinces . . .
The COVID-19 price-gouging scheme allegedly centres on Việt Á, a pharmaceutical company based in Ho Chi Minh City that developed one of Vietnam’s first locally produced COVID-19 PCR tests in collaboration with the state-run Military Academy of Medicine. As COVID-19 swept the country in April 2020, the health ministry licensed Việt Á to directly distribute its testing equipment to local public health units. Through a de facto monopoly, illegal kickbacks, and collaboration with ministry and local officials, Việt Á was allegedly able to inflate its prices and earn huge profits when cities across the country were conducting mass testing campaigns. Việt Á’s CEO was arrested in January, with officials from various ministries in Hanoi and company directors in Ho Chi Minh City arrested in the ensuing months. Investigators have recently looked beyond the two major cities and begun charging dozens of local officials in more than 15 provinces, including the director of the Centers for Disease Control for Đà Nẵng on Monday.
Tip of the iceberg . . .
Already into its sixth month, the investigation is far from over, with many more resignations, sackings, and arrests likely to come. Analysts have described this wave of arrests as a continuation of the ‘Blazing Furnace’ anti-graft campaign launched in 2016. But both scandals demonstrate the persistence of institutional corruption despite the Vietnamese Communist Party’s crackdown. The scandals have also muddied what was once a point of national pride –Vietnam’s initially stellar COVID-19 response – and could undermine public and business confidence in its public health governance and health-care industries.
- Asia Times: Dual Covid corruption scandals rock Vietnam
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Vietnam was once praised for its pandemic response. Now a COVID corruption scandal has brought down its health minister
- VNExpress: 6 tháng điều tra vụ Việt Á