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Wednesday,  Apr 25,2018,17:28 (GMT+7)

Gambler-in-chief

Son Nguyen
Friday,  Mar 16,2018,21:48 (GMT+7)
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Gambler-in-chief

Son Nguyen

The news came as a tsunami, sending shockwaves throughout the country when police busted a huge gambling ring this week, detaining a former major general at the Ministry of Public Security plus scores of others including entrepreneurs, and taking hold of trillions of Vietnam dong evidenced as gambling money. The case, now under extensive investigation, points to huge damages a high-ranking corrupt official can inflict on society, although it also mirrors the determination of national leaders to fight crimes.

As widely covered in local media, Phu Tho Province’s police on Sunday arrested Nguyen Thanh Hoa accused of running a protection racket for a transnational online gambling ring. Before the ring was busted, Hoa served as head of the Department for Anti-High-Tech Crimes under the Ministry of Public Security, shortly known as C50.

It was quite accidental when Phu Tho police came across the case. Last May, the police obtained a letter of accusation from a local resident, saying she was cheated by a Facebook user who took 110 phone cards worth VND55 million from her. In July, police found and arrested a young man named Huy, according to Thanh Nien. The man then claimed he had turned all phone cards into a type of virtual money for gambling online using Rikvip app. Following the lead, Phu Tho police uncovered a huge gambling ring, and after consulting leaders of the Ministry of Public Security, formally launched the prosecution process late last year.

Police found that the online games on applications like Rikvip and Tip.club were launched by Phan Sao Nam, former board chairman of VTC Online, and Nguyen Van Duong, board chairman of two other companies. These two ring leaders have been arrested.

To date, up to 83 people have been prosecuted for involvement in the ring, while arrest warrants were issued on March 15 against nine others who have taken flight.

Initial investigation results show as much as VND18 trillion, or roughly US$800 million, has been spent on online games offered by the ring, and ring leaders have earned up to VND2.77 trillion. Some US$3.6 million has also been transferred abroad to pay game winners. Police have recovered some VND1.3 trillion, including VND381 billion in frozen bank deposits, 20 apartments worth VND190 billion, and 13 cars, Thanh Nien reports.

According to Tuoi Tre, to keep the gambling ring safe, Phan Sao Nam and Nguyen Van Duong sought “cooperation” from Nguyen Thanh Hoa as the most senior police official overseeing social security in this aspect. And they cut a deal, under which Phan Sao Nam would earn 60% of the profit, and Nguyen Van Duong the remaining 40%. The police leader, meanwhile, would get 20% of Duong’s shared profit.

Right after being arrested, Duong admitted he had earned some VND800 billion, but said he had not handed part of his share to Nguyen Thanh Hoa, according to Tuoi Tre. However, news site Vnexpress, quoting Phu Tho investigators, stressed on March 15 that Duong had given over VND17 billion to the former police chief.

The gambling ring started operation in 2014, with a main server placed in Hanoi and another abroad to facilitate transnational gambling. In 2016, inspectors from the Ministry of Information and Communications detected fishy operations, and sent a report to the Ministry of Public Security, raising suspicion that the online game portal managed by Duong was involved in gambling. Such an alert came nowhere, however.

As the case unfolds, Tuoi Tre in a commentary calls for stern punishments against all those involved, especially police officers who have given protection to such an illegal ring.

Commenting on the implications on the society, the paper says numerous lives have been shattered due to gambling. There have been many people committing suicide due to gambling-related indebtedness, and there have been many others becoming robbers and murderers, says the paper. And, “among such numerous shattered lives, how many have been victimized by the ring with Nguyen Thanh Hoa as the protector?’ ponders the paper.

Another worrying facet of the gambling ring, says local media, is that criminals employ it as a means for money laundering.

“As illegal profits from a gambling ring are huge, criminals often join forces to launder money in order to legitimize revenue,” Lawyer Tran Anh Tuan, director of a Hanoi-based law firm, is quoted in Tien Phong. In this particular case, says lawyer Hoang Trong Giap of another Hanoi-based law firm, the criminals have operated an online game enterprise to launder dirty money into legal revenue. The lawyer asserts that “in Vietnam now, there have appeared almost all ways of money laundering found elsewhere in the world.”

At a meeting on Sunday, the Party Central Committee’s Secretariat also urged police to further look into money laundering activities associated with this gambling ring, according to Tuoi Tre. The meeting, presided over by Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, demanded that the Party Committee of the Ministry of Public Security work with other relevant bodies to further investigate the case, “pinpoint responsibility of all people involved, and bring harsh punishment in accordance with regulations of the Party and the prevailing laws of the State.”

The police are continuing their investigation into the case, wielding the top political commitment from national leaders to clean up the system to restore public confidence. While the case has stunned the society, it also serves as an affirmation that in the fight against corruption, there is no exception, says Lao Dong. It conveys a message from the top leaders that “when a general violates law, he should be held responsible just like an ordinary citizen,” says the paper.

Phan Sao Nam and Nguyen Van Duong have been named as the ring leaders, and Nguyen Thanh Hoa charged as a conspirator by Phu Tho police. However, the former police chief can also be called the gambler-in-chief. To gain illegal money from the ring, the former C50 leader has placed on bet not only his social status and his political fame, but also the people’s social security and safety.

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