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Vietnam's Minister of Transportation Resigns as Anti-Corruption Campaign Looms

Vietnam's transportation minister has resigned to take responsibility for a huge gambling scandal, and a vice minister has been suspended for corruption on the scale of tens of millions of dollars.

Dao Dinh Binh, head of Vietnam's ministry of transportation, finally took the step Tuesday that citizens and government leaders had been demanding since last week: he resigned.

Binh is the highest-ranking victim yet of the so-called PMU-18 affair, a gambling and corruption scandal that has implicated numerous senior officials at a transportation ministry unit in illegal betting rings, bribes, and fraud running into the tens of millions of dollars.

Nguyen Van Cong, the ministry's chief administrator, says Binh's resignation did not mean he had personally done anything wrong.

He says Binh resigned to accept responsibility for not preventing misconduct by his subordinates.

Still, the resignation came a week after Prime Minister Phan Van Khai declared that corrupt officials should resign their posts. With the 10th congress of Vietnam's Communist Party set to begin on April 18, Binh's resignation signals that a major anti-corruption push could be under way.

The scandal first became public in January, when Bui Tien Dung, head of the ministry's Project Management Unit 18, or PMU-18, was arrested for allegedly betting $1.8 million on soccer matches.

Police said an office computer showed that up to 200 other employees had been betting as well. Dung was alleged to have spent his winnings on girlfriends, and to have passed some of the money on to his boss.

According to an official at the ministry of public security, who asked not to be named, the investigation of Dung has now moved from gambling to more serious allegations of corruption.

The official says police are looking into a series of farms and villas owned by Dung. They are also investigating charges that since his arrest, Dung has attempted to bribe various influential figures to have the charges against him reduced or dropped.

By late March, Dung's boss, Vice Minister Nguyen Viet Tien, had been called in for questioning. On March 23, Tien was also suspended from his post, and this week the Communist Party stripped him of his membership and he was arrested.

Over the past week, Vietnamese newspapers have published stories detailing fraud and malfeasance at PMU-18 on a vast scale. Two-point-eight million dollars are said to have disappeared on one highway project alone. On another project, 13 out of 21 brand new bridges were found to be defective.