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Vietnam Puts Crime Boss on Trial - 2003-02-25

Vietnam opened its largest-ever organized crime trial on Tuesday. The defendants in the sensational case include Nam Cam, a reputed crime boss, and several senior members of the Communist Party accused of protecting him.

Criminal trials aren't usually open to the public in Vietnam. But the case of the man known as Nam Cam, an alleged crime kingpin, has generated so much public interest that state-run television broadcast the opening hours of his trial. Several hundred people stood in the courtyard of Ho Chi Minh City People's Court Tuesday in hopes of catching a glimpse of the notorious defendant.

At the height of his power, Mr. Cam, whose real name is Truong Van Cam, was reportedly raking in about $2 million a month from gambling, karaoke bars and prostitution. He is charged with murder and bribery among other crimes. It is his connections in high places, however, that have grabbed the most attention.

Twenty-one state officials and employees are among the 155 defendants in the trial, including two members of the elite Communist Party Central Committee and an assistant national prosecutor. The officials are charged with shielding him from prosecution. The 21 also include policemen and reporters for the state-run news media, who were allegedly on Mr. Cam's payroll.

With Vietnam wallowing in corruption, the Communist Party was at first eager to show that it was fighting graft, even if the graft reached the highest levels. But party officials later had a change of heart and warned the Vietnamese media to tone down their coverage, saying stories about the case were hurting the party's image.

Officials did allow the trial's opening to be televised, but the case will now continue behind closed doors until a verdict comes in about two months. Vietnamese journalists were warned last week that they should only report details of the case that are "beneficial" to the country.