Four likely to face firing squad in Vietnam's largest corruption trial
Jan. 30, 1997
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (AP) _ A panel of high court judges deliberating on the sentencing in Vietnam's largest corruption trial is likely to send the four major defendants to the firing squad.
The trial adjourned Thursday after defense lawyers, delivering their closing arguments, said their clients should not be made scapegoats in graft-ridden Vietnam.
Twenty people _ business executives, bankers and government officials _ are charged with losing $27 million and triggering the collapse of state-run import-export company, Tamexco.
The judges are expected to hand down the sentences Friday.
Prosecutors have called for the death penalty for Pham Huy Phuoc, the director of Tamexco, two of his gambling partners and a government official allegedly involved in the graft.
The court is expected to heed the prosecution's recommendations, in keeping with a precedent established last year.
Vietnam in October introduced the death penalty for corruption cases that involve serious losses to the state. Since then, capital punishment has been invoked three times for corruption cases.
In their final statement, Phuoc's lawyers acknowledged that he was involved in bribery, but said such corruption has become inherent in Vietnam and their client should not be singled out for punishment.
``Phuoc has become a victim of irresponsibility of the government and the banks,'' his lawyer, Nguyen Phuong Danh, was quoted as saying in the state-run Liberated Saigon newspaper.
Phuoc, the father of three children, used his final court statement to appeal for lenient sentences for his employees who also stand accused.
``They were only following my orders,'' Phuoc said of Tamexco company executives who could face life in prison.
Some of the defendants in the weeklong trial seemed resigned as they gave their closing statements. In Vietnam, criminal defendants are presumed guilty until proven innocent.
``If you sentence me to death, I will die for my friendship and I will die for my honesty,'' said Le Duc Canh, a government official accused of helping Phuoc make a series of bad land purchases that contributed to the collapse of Tamexco.
Newspapers in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, reflected a growing hostility toward Phuoc and his co-defendants.
``Their evil dealings have polluted society,'' Liberated Saigon said in a front-page editorial today. ``Their denials don't change their guilt. The court will give them the death sentences they deserve.''
Foreign reporters have been barred from the trial.