HANOI: The brother of Vietnam’s richest man was arrested for allegedly bribing officials in a telecoms scandal, the security ministry said Saturday, a shocking development as the communist state widens its crackdown on corruption.
A conservative leadership that came to power in the one-party state in 2016 has carried out the sweeping campaign, going after high-rolling executives once thought to be untouchable in Vietnam, one of Asia’s most corrupt countries.
Dozens have been jailed already, mostly from the country’s lucrative finance and state-run oil sectors, sending a chill through business and political circles.
The latest ensnared in the anti-corruption drive is Pham Nhat Vu, the former chairman of a television company Audio Visual Global (AVG), whose brother has a net worth of US$7.6 billion according to Forbes.
Vu is caught up in a scandal that erupted last year when the government started investigating state-run Mobifone telecommunications’ attempted purchase of AVG.
While the deal did not go through, officials have said it would have caused US$300 million in losses to state coffers.
Police have “decided to investigate, arrest and search the house of Vu… who has been accused of providing bribes,” said the Ministry of Public Security on Saturday.
The amount Vu is alleged to have paid in bribes was not reported.
Vu’s older brother Pham Nhat Vuong is Vietnam’s richest man and the head of VinGroup, the country’s largest conglomerate with a portfolio that includes holiday resorts, luxury condominiums, shopping malls, convenience stores and supermarkets across the country.
Vuong’s cradle-to-grave empire is also making Vietnam’s first homegrown cars and smartphones and is the financial backer for the country’s first Formula One race next year.
But the family keeps a very low public profile like other wealthy elites in the country who have kept their heads down amid the anti-corruption sweep.
Two of Mobifone’s top executives were arrested last year for their role in the scandal, and high-ranking state officials, including two former communications ministers, have been caught in the crackdown as well for their involvement in the loss-making AVG deal.
Vietnam is among Asia’s fastest-growing growing economies, but it has long been plagued by endemic corruption.
According to Transparency International, the country ranks 117 out of 180 countries on the corruption index, behind Thailand and the Philippines.
The anti-graft drive has been spearheaded by the longtime conservative apparatchik Nguyen Phu Trong, the communist party chief who last year also became president, consolidating two of the country’s top roles to become Vietnam’s most powerful man.