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Vietnamese Lawmaker Arrested for Alleged Fraud

FILE - Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung at opening ceremony of the autumn session of Vietnam's National Assembly, Hanoi, Oct. 21, 2013.

A member of Vietnam’s National Assembly was arrested late Wednesday over an alleged real estate scam.

Police searched the home of 49-year-old Chau Thi Thu Nga for several hours Wednesday, seizing an undisclosed number of documents.

She was arrested over alleged fraud involving a housing project run by her private company. The company collected deposits from 80 potential home buyers between 2009-2010 worth a total of $14 million, but did not pay them back when the project did not materialize, a report in Thanh Nien newspaper said. It was expected to be finished by the end of 2015.

Nguyen Minh Thuyet, former deputy chairman of the National Assembly’s Committee on Culture, Education and Youth, said some negative information about Nga began circulating at the beginning of the assembly election process in 2011.

However, he suggested that perhaps the relevant agencies did not investigate this thoroughly and the electorate voted her in.

She was suspended on Wednesday from her position as a member of the National Assembly’s Committee on Finance and Budget.

Lawmakers in Vietnam are allowed a level of immunity from prosecution, as Dinh Xuan Thao, chairman of the National Assembly’s Legislative Research Institute explained in an interview with state broadcaster VTV Thursday.

He said according to the constitution, no one is allowed to arrest, detain or prosecute a deputy without approval from the National Assembly.

In Nga’s case Chairman of the Assembly Nguyen Sinh Hung gave permission for investigation agencies to go ahead.

The government has been carrying out a crackdown on corruption in recent years amid economic woes with several high profile trials, some of which have resulted in the death penalty.

Observers often connect the arrests of prominent business figures with political infighting in the Communist Party.

Deputy Thuyet said he believed this was not the case with Nga. Police gathered enough evidence against her, he says, and have already arrested her partners.

Vietnam is rated 119 out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2014, ranking it ahead of Cambodia and Myanmar but behind Thailand, Indonesia and China.