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Huge Vietnam Corruption Trial Heads Toward Verdict - 2003-06-03

One of Vietnam's biggest corruption trials appears headed toward a verdict this week. The trial is part of a larger government effort to fight a rising tide of corruption that could threaten economic growth and turn the public against Vietnam's communist leadership.

More than 150 people are on trial, from low-level street thugs and former police officers, to a notorious organized-crime boss and senior members of Vietnam's Communist Party.

Many observers expect alleged crime boss, Nam Cam, and some of his followers to be convicted, and almost certainly be executed by firing squad.

The trial is closed to international media, but Vietnam's national press has portrayed the trial as evidence of the government's effort to protect the economy from corruption.

Several international business groups have described Vietnam as one of Asia's most corrupt countries. International investors complain that unless Vietnam eliminates excessive bureaucratic red tape and corruption, foreign businesses could move elsewhere.

By the government's admission, corrupt bureaucrats often skim as much as 20 percent of the money earmarked for public works. The ruling Communist Party has borne the brunt of the criticism about corruption.

Bob Broadfoot works for the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in Hong Kong. He said the government is cracking down to keep public anger at corruption from becoming a threat to Communist Party rule.

"It is a one-party system and a large part of the corruption involves the party, so what to what extent could the corruption undermine the ability of the government and hurt its mandate to rule?" he said.

But some dissidents fear the government response is half-hearted and say the trial does not go far enough to combat corruption.

They say the government did not target the most senior leaders.

Some observers, however, say the government may be trying to limit the speed of the campaign in a country unused to so much public spectacle. "I think other people always say they can push it harder, but if they err its going to be on the side of conservative because to err on the side of going too hard creates so many shocks that you could get a political crisis in the short term, and that is something they are going to avoid at all costs," Mr. Broadfoot said.

Verdicts are expected Wednesday in the trial. The defendants face charges that include bribery, gambling, and helping fugitives flee the country.