2 Officials in Vietnam Are Arrested in Covid Test Kit Scandal
Vietnam’s health minister and the mayor of the capital, Hanoi, were removed from their posts and arrested this week after being accused of playing a part in a coronavirus test kit scandal that has led to charges against dozens of government officials.
The health minister, Nguyen Thanh Long, and Hanoi’s mayor, Chu Ngoc Anh, were stripped of their membership in the ruling Communist Party and their government positions before their arrests on Tuesday, local media reported.
Mr. Long and Mr. Anh, both in detention, could not be reached for comment. Neither spoke publicly about the allegations against them before their arrest.
In a long-running price-fixing investigation, Viet A Technology Corporation is accused by the authorities of marking up the price of kits it marketed by as much as 45 percent and of bribing local officials to use its test instead of others.
The company received more than $172 million from sales of the kits, local media reported. Viet A Technology Corporation’s director general, Phan Quoc Viet, was arrested in December.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security said in January that Mr. Viet had confessed to paying local officials more than $34 million to use the Viet A test kit and that by inflating prices, the company had gained more than $21 million.
Vietnam, one of the few Communist-ruled states in the world, has long suffered from high-level corruption. An anti-corruption drive has led to the arrest of numerous officials in recent years.
Mr. Long, the ousted health minister, and Mr. Anh, the chairman of the People’s Committee of Hanoi, who previously served as minister of science and technology, face charges of abusing their power.
In revoking the pair’s Communist Party membership, party leaders concluded that their political ideology and morality had become degraded and that they had violated party and state rules. Party leaders also found that their actions had caused major losses to the state budget.
Speaking at an online conference in January, Mr. Long said that the charges raised by the scandal “are very serious and need to be handled strictly” but added that they should not undercut the contributions by medical staff and health officials in fighting the pandemic.
In November, the minister told Parliament that he was “heartbroken” over the price-fixing charges against health officials.
“Although regulations on bidding are in place, there are still violations, embezzlement and corruption,” he said. “We condemn them. The authorities will handle it according to the law.”