Nguyen Viet Chien of the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper was sentenced after a two-day trial at the Hanoi People's Court, a Reuters witness said. He had pleaded not guilty.

Another journalist, Nguyen Van Hai of the Tuoi Tre (Youth) paper, who had pleaded guilty to a similar charge, was given two years' probation and was expected to be freed later on Wednesday, the witness said.

The pair were detained in May and accused of spreading "false information" and "abusing free and democratic rights to breach the interest of the state and legal rights of organisations and citizens" in their coverage of the corruption saga.

Former police Major-General Pham Xuan Quac, who used to be director of the Social Order Crime Investigation Department, was formally warned by the court for "intentionally disclosing secrets." He had been accused of being a source for the stories.

A former lieutenant-colonel also alleged to have been a source was given one year in jail.

The scandal erupted at a transport ministry agency that builds roads and bridges with foreign aid.

The agency has been investigated since 2005 after officials were accused of embezzling state money and using it to fund a lavish lifestyle and betting on European soccer.

The media in Vietnam are rigidly controlled by the ruling Communist party, but have been encouraged to report on corruption as part of a campaign to root out graft, which is cited as hampering investment and development.

Reuters - October 15, 2008

Ex-police officers and reporters on trial

The Hanoi Peoples’ Court brought to trial two former police officers and two former reporters on October 14 for alleged offences related to a corruption case at the Project Management Unit 18 (PMU18).

Pham Xuan Quac, 62, and Dinh Van Huynh, 50, former investigators at the Public Security Ministry, were charged with “deliberately revealing work secrets”, according to Article 286 of the Penal Code.

The two other defendants, Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, a former reporter for the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper and Nguyen Van Hai, 33, who had been employed by the Ho Chi Minh City Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, were accused of “abusing democratic freedom rights to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organisations and individuals” under Article 258 of the Penal Code.

Nine lawyers pleaded for the four defendants at the first hearing, while 10 witnesses involved in the case were summoned by the court.

Representatives from 26 local news agencies, newspapers and a number of foreign diplomatic agencies as well as reporters from six foreign news agencies, including AP, AFP, Reuters, Kyodo, NHK and DAP attended the trial.

According to the Supreme Peoples’ Procuracy’s indictment, results of interrogations and public debate at the court, defendants Quac and Huynh had made direct contact with reporters and leaked information regarding the case for being published by the mass media. At the time they were continuing to undertake their assignments to lead and hold investigations on the PMU18 scandal.

They had however provided incorrect information about the results of the investigation; some of the information they provided was based on initial reports that had not been verified via further investigation or examination. These acts were perpetrated over a significant period of time.

Quac and Huynh were accused of violating Clause 2, Article 286 of the Penal Code for “deliberately revealing work secrets” as well as breaching the public security force’s rules.

Defendants Chien and Hai were accused of abusing their power as reporters assigned to cover internal affairs in order to drum up and distort a number of pieces of information, leading to distorted and inaccurate public opinion, tarnishing the images and reputation of the Party and State as well as the honour, prestige and personal qualities of a number of citizens.

The Hanoi Peoples’ Procuracy representative holding the position of prosecutor at the court officially requested that Quac be subject to a non-custodial reform penalty for one to two years or a caution for deliberately disclosing classified information.

It was proposed that defendant Huynh receive a jail sentence of between 24 and 30 months for the same charges.

The proposed verdict for Chien was a jail term of between 24 and 30 months while Hai faces a sentence of between 18 and 24 months of non-custodial reform.

In defending their clients, the attorneys provided numerous supporting details, asking the jury to reduce the penalties. The trial is proceeding in accordance with law and will continue on Oct. 15.

Vietnam News Agency - October 15, 2008