Vietnam announced Monday it would try Vu Dinh Thuan, 67, former deputy head of the Government Secretariat, and his former assistant Luong Cao Son, 52, for alleged embezzlement committed between 2001 and 2007.

The two are charged with submitting inflated expenses and pocketing the difference while administering Project 112, a failed programme to set up a national electronic network for government offices.

Lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu, who served as defence counsel in the notorious PMU-18 corruption case in 2006, said Vietnamese government policy demands that the heads of state agencies take responsibility for corruption under their watch.

"In this case, the corruption occurred in the Government Secretariat during the time of former prime minister Phan Van Khai," Vu said. "So it is Phan Van Khai who has to take responsibility."

Khai appointed Thuan to head Project 112 when it was launched in 2001. The project aimed to install an IT network with integrated software at government administrative offices around the country.

The project's first phase, planned for completion 2005, had a budget of 40 million dollars. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Khai's successor, halted it in April 2007, saying it had "failed to meet its target."

By that time it had disbursed 16 million dollars, of which some 6.3 million dollars were reportedly misspent. The network had been installed in 40 out of 64 provinces, but state organizations using it said only 36 per cent of the software was serviceable.

Thuan and Son allegedly conspired with other officials to inflate the costs of training materials and computer software, embezzling 57,000, and helped subordinates embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars more.

Police arrested the two in September 2007.

Besides Thuan and Son, 18 others, including government officials and staff, will be prosecuted on charges of "abuse of power" for participating in the scam.

Under Vietnamese law, if convicted, Thuan and Khai will be sentenced to at least 7 years in prison.

Deutsche Presse Agentur - January 21, 2009