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Vietnam Airlines Beset by Scandals


Last week's revelation that Vietnam Airlines employees appeared to have been smuggling goods, including dog meat, into Russia is the latest in a series of scandals that have plagued the airline over the past few months.

When 55 bags from a Vietnam Airlines flight went unclaimed at the Moscow airport earlier this month, Russian officials sent it back to Hanoi. Inspecting the 1,700 kilograms, Hanoi airport officials found all sorts of illegal goods, including dog meat, considered a delicacy by Vietnamese. Officials suspect the goods were intended for resale to Vietnamese living in Russia.

Pham Chi Cuong, director of ground services at Hanoi's Noi Bai airport, says an investigation is under way into a possible conspiracy among employees and passengers.

Cuong says three airport employees have been suspended so far.

The apparent smuggling ring is the latest blow to the prestige of Vietnam Airlines. The state-owned enterprise has been hit by one scandal after another in recent months.

In June, a pilot carrying a briefcase full of cash was arrested in Australia on drug charges. Another pilot was arrested in Singapore for harassing a hotel employee.

Early this year, an Italian court fined the airline $5 million for failing to pay $1.6 million in a 1994 judgment to a former lawyer for one of the airline's travel agents.

And in April, a flight from Hanoi to Frankfurt was intercepted by fighter jets from the Czech Air Force after it repeatedly failed to respond to Czech air traffic control. Apparently there had been problems with the radio.

The airline has been hit by reports of dubious contracts and purchasing decisions, and allegations that airline employees pay up to $20,000 in bribes for jobs.

The news media uncovered some of these revelations and, Vietnam Airlines spokesman Nguyen Tan Chan says, others were found during a comprehensive government investigation.

Chan says the investigation will not be complete for some time.

But he says the scandals have yet to affect the company's bottom line. Revenue for the first half of 2006 was on target for the year. And the company says it was recently certified as safe by the International Air Transport Association.

Travelers in Vietnam have little choice but to fly Vietnam Airlines. The company and its Pacific Airlines subsidiary have a monopoly on domestic flights.

Despite the scandals however, the company retains the confidence of its government owners. On Wednesday, the government approved the airline's bid to purchase 10 new planes. Vietnam Airlines now plans to begin direct flights to the United States by the end of 2007.

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