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Vietnam deputy minister held in growing graft case

Written by: Staff
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HANOI, Apr 4 (Reuters) Vietnam's Transport Minister has offered to resign over a multi-million dollar bribery and gambling scandal and a deputy was arrested today over the same case, government officials and witnesses said.

Police searched the Hanoi home of Deputy Transport Minister Nguyen Viet Tien as hundreds of onlookers and journalists watched.

Police said they indicted Tien on two counts, ''intentional wrongdoings against state regulations on economic management that caused serious consequences'' and ''lax responsibility that caused serious consequences''.

Earlier today, state-run Voice of Vietnam Radio said Transport Minister Dao Dinh Binh, 61, filed a letter of resignation yesterday as the ruling Communist Party's Politburo met after Prime Minister Phan Van Khai took the unusual step of proposing Binh's suspension.

Even if Khai approves Binh's request, he will still have to ask approval from the National Assembly general session in May, which would be an effective dismissal, officials said.

There was no immediate word on Binh from the Party, which has periodic anti-graft campaigns, often before its five-yearly National Congress. The gathering, the most important event on the political calendar, is scheduled from April 18 to 25.

''Facing the pressure of the public opinion and the government instructions on the responsibility of the manager over mistakes at his agency, Transport Minister Dao Dinh Binh has written an application to resign,'' the radio report said.

Resignations at ministerial level over corruption are rare in Vietnam. In June 2004, Agriculture Minister Le Huy Ngo resigned over a corruption case in his ministry, the first to do so since Hanoi began economic reforms at the 1986 Party Congress.

The latest scandal broke in late 2005 in the richest state agency in charge of building roads and bridges under the Transport ministry. In January, the agency's head confessed to bribery and gambling million on football matches and he is police custody.

Deputy Minister Tien was previously suspended over ties to the boss of the 2 billion dollars agency, Project Management Unit 18, police have said.

The agency receives foreign aid and the scandal has raised concerns among foreign donors, the top two being Japan and the World Bank.

The radio cited the application by Binh, former head of Vietnam Railways Corp before becoming the minister in 2002, as saying he ''did not fulfil responsibility'' related to a deadly train accident last year and the corruption scandal.

REUTERS VJ BS2006

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