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Vietnam: Death Sentence Upheld for 'Nam Kam' - 2003-10-30

A Vietnam appeals court has upheld the death sentences of crime kingpin 'Nam Kam' and five of his gangster associates. But a risk analyst says the upholding of the harsh sentences will not help stem corruption within Vietnam's government.

A Ho Chi Minh appeals court said Thursday the death penalty handed down to crime boss Truong Van Cam, better known by his alias Nam Kam, was "appropriate." Although the court ruled it would uphold the sentence, the 56-year-old crime boss still has seven days to ask for a presidential pardon.

In June, Nam Cam was convicted of ordering the killing of an underworld rival in 2000 and trying to bribe state officials. Five of his fellow gangsters were also sentenced to death in a trial where 155 of his associates, some top Communist Party officials, were tried for various crimes.

Bruce Gale, a Singapore-based risk analyst with Hill and Associates, says the extent of Nam Cam's corruption could have potentially toppled the Vietnamese government.

"Nam Cam sort of went over the top. He had become so powerful that he was buying off members of the Communist Party, some of them quite senior," says Mr. Gale. "So what he represented was not simply a threat to say the good business practices... he represented a countervailing power to the [Vietnamese] Communist Party. He could have subverted the whole machinery."

Investors in communist Vietnam say crime and graft are major problems. Because civil servant wages are low, policemen and government officials can easily be bought. Risk analysts say the country's overly bureaucratic legal system also encourages business to cut corners by offering bribes.

Nam Cam used bribery and death threats to stop senior government officials from cracking down on his crime ring, which included protection rackets, prostitution and gambling dens. His capture and subsequent sentencing ends what many refer to as a fifteen-year crime-spree and battle to dominate other criminal groups. Despite the court's decision to uphold the death sentences, Mr. Gale says corruption in Vietnam remains rife. "What it shows is that major crime bosses may be vulnerable but other forms of corruption at the lower levels might continue."

Nam Cam, who was arrested in December of 2001, is to be executed by firing squad.