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February 21, 2024

Aide to Vietnamese Deputy PM held in COVID kit investigation

UPDATED AT 10:12 PM ET ON 11-30-2022

An assistant to Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam has been arrested for alleged involvement in a COVID-19 test kit scandal involving overpricing and bribery that led to multi-million dollar profits for the company at the heart of the claims.

On Wednesday, the Investigative Police Agency of Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security announced the detention of Nguyen Van Trinh for his involvement in the Viet A test kit case. It said Trinh worked for ‘a deputy prime minister’ without saying who.

State-controlled media also reported the case without naming the minister. However, widely published information shows Trinh was appointed assistant to incumbent Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam in Dec. 2018. The deputy prime minister is in charge of Healthcare and Culture, overseeing the government’s COVID response.

The ministry notice said Trinh was being investigated in connection with the crime of “abusing of position and power while performing official duties” as specified in Clause 3, Article 356 of the Criminal Code.

“Nguyen Van Trinh, assistant to a deputy prime minister, took advantage of his position … influencing responsible units and individuals at the Ministry of Health to help the company Viet A register its COVID-19 test kit in contravention of the law and sell this product to units and localities, causing particularly serious damage to State property,” the statement read. 

Viet A is accused of inflating the price of test kits by about 45% and bribing officials around VND800 billion (U.S.$34 million) to ensure the kits were used in hospitals, which allowed the company to profit by $172 million.

Police have already investigated nearly 100 people in connection with the Viet A case, including eight officials from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science and Technology as well as dozens of senior officials from Vietnam’s Center for Disease Control and the health departments of provinces and cities.

In June the Vietnam Communist Party expelled then Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long and then Hanoi Mayor Chu Ngoc Anh for their role in the scandal.

The investigation covers: “Violation of regulations on management and use of State assets, causing loss and waste; Violation of regulations on bidding, causing serious consequences; Abusing positions and powers while performing official duties; and Giving and Receiving bribes at Viet A Company and related units and localities.”

The case was uncovered at the end of last year and is one of the most important to be placed under the supervision and direction of the Central Steering Committee on Anti-corruption which has been spearheading a crackdown on wrongdoing in the Communist Party which started in 2016.

This story has been updated to note that the deputy prime minister is in charge of Vietnam’s COVID response.

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