Japan says it is cooperating with Vietnam to investigate claims made by the head of a Tokyo-based firm that allegedly paid $1.3 million to Vietnamese officials to win contracts in development projects.
In an email to VOA's Vietnamese service Tuesday, embassy official Nguyen Hoa Trang said, "We are actively engaging with Vietnam to gather information and to clarify what happened."
Nguyen Van Huyen, chief inspector at Vietnam's Ministry of Transport, told VOA’s Vietnamese service some railway officials associated with Japan Transportation Consultants (JTC) projects have been temporarily suspended.
He added, however, that the Ministry has not received the names of those who allegedly received bribes from the transportation consultant firm.
“The minister [Dinh La Thang] already held a meeting and ordered related officials to explain what they did. We will set up inspecting teams to review all projects with JTC to see whether they properly followed procedures,” said Nguyen.
According to Japan's Yomiuri newspaper, Tamio Kakinuma, the head of JTC, admitted the bribery scheme to Tokyo prosecutors last week. He alleged that JTC paid cash in return for a rail project funded by Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) in Vietnam.
The allegations have been widely covered in the state-run media in Vietnam, where the government is staging a high profile fight against corruption.
The case has sparked heated debates on social media and among public servants over the effectiveness of Vietnam’s anti-graft campaign.
Economist Le Dang Doanh told VOA’s Vietnamese Service he is ‘deeply saddened and embarrassed’ by the revelation.
“The case has an impact on the blossoming ties between Japan and Vietnam, as well as on Japan’s ODA reimbursement for Vietnam. Although mutual relations have been great, it is possible that the Japanese side will have negative reactions, as ODA originates from tax money and it is supposed to be used in an effective way,” he said.
Veteran social activist Le Hien Duc, dubbed by many as the grandmother of the anti-corruption movement, expressed hopes the alleged bribe will be thoroughly investigated and the results made public to regain the trust of ordinary people.
“There’s no smoke without fire. If there are allegations, there surely is corruption. Now it is necessary to have someone with good conscience to investigate and respond to public queries both inside and outside Vietnam. It is then considered credible,” she said.
Japan is Vietnam’s largest ODA donor, and in 2008 Japan suspended its development assistance to the Southeast Asian country six months after a high-profile bribery case related to Japan’s aid-funded project
According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2013
, Vietnam ranks as No. 116 out of 177 countries and territories.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Vietnamese Service.