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Vietnam ex-minister gets life sentence in bribery case

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Hanoi (AFP)

A court in Vietnam sentenced a former communications minister to life in prison Saturday for receiving millions of dollars in bribes, as the hardline administration presses its anti-graft drive against once-powerful figures in the communist state.

Nguyen Bac Son was charged alongside his then-deputy Truong Minh Tuan with receiving $3.2 million in bribes to approve the 2015 purchase of a TV firm that would have lost state-run telecommunications firm Mobifone $300 million.

The two-week trial in Hanoi for the men -- once members of the powerful communist party central committee -- ended Saturday, according to state-run media Tuoi Tre.

Son, a minister from 2011-2016, was sentenced to life in prison while Tuan -- who took over as minister until he was fired in July last year -- got 14 years in prison.

"The defendants' behaviour caused bad opinions in society, resulting in especially huge losses for the state," state media quoted the verdict as saying.

It also "caused $300 million in losses to state coffers," the verdict said, though the transaction was never fully completed.

Son reportedly admitted wrongdoing before the court and asked for leniency, while Tuan said he was "shameful for his mistakes", said Tuoi Tre.

Prosecutors had initially proposed the death penalty for Son, but he was spared after he returned the money on Friday before the verdict's announcement.

Both men had received the money from Pham Nhat Vu, director of the loss-making TV company Audio Visual Global, who was also sentenced to three years in prison Saturday, while 11 other officials involved received jail terms between two and 23 years.

Vu's brother is Vietnam's richest man Pham Nhat Vuong, with assets totalling billions of dollars thanks to a cradle-to-grave empire that includes housing, holiday resorts, farms, schools, shopping malls and cars.

The case has captivated a public unused to seeing powerful figures publicly toppled.

Since Vietnam's transition to a hardline ultra-conservative administration in 2016, the government has ramped up an anti-corruption campaign which has jailed dozens of senior officials, bankers and businessmen.

Some observers believe the drive to be politically motivated.

Vietnam, one of Asia's fastest growing economies, has long been plagued by endemic corruption, with Transparency International ranking it 117 out of 180 countries on its corruption index.

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