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Vietnam's 'Godfather' gets death penalty
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Gianhập: Nov.4.2002
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Vietnam's 'Godfather' gets death penalty


By MARGIE MASON
Associated Press

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam - The trial of Vietnam's "godfather" of organized crime ended Thursday with a result even the defense expected: A death sentence for the man whose case captivated the nation with its tales of rampant official corruption.

Truong Van Cam, known as Nam Cam, will face a firing squad along with five associates for spinning a web of bribery, gambling and murder that entangled officials high in the government.

"We don't need to wait until this afternoon to see if Truong Van Cam will get death," defense attorney Nguyen Dang Trung said before the sentencing. "We all know that he will get death."

The defense attorney said he plans to appeal the verdict and sentence.

Outsiders viewed the trial, involving 155 defendants in three courtrooms, as scripted theater that reflected a tug of war between Nam Cam, the government and the Communist Party.

"He challenged not only the law, but the Party itself, and that's why I think they went after him," said Mark Sidel, an expert on Vietnam at the University of Iowa College of Law and Obermann Center for Advanced Studies.

"The irony of Nam Cam is that if he had not gotten so powerful in Ho Chi Minh City and beyond, and had not been involved with the corruption of officials, it's possible he would still be operating his restaurants, hotels and casinos today."

Nam Cam, 56, a former dockworker and veteran of the army of South Vietnam, ran a criminal empire in the country's largest city until his arrest in December 2001.

On Wednesday he was convicted of seven counts including ordering the death of a rival gang member. Standing before the court in his green-striped uniform, he showed no emotion as the sentence was handed down a day later.

The court sentenced several family members to long prison terms, including 20 years for his wife, Phan Thi Truc.

The trial exposed close links between organized crime and members of the Communist Party, embarrassing a leadership that has prided itself on its anti-corruption stance.

The investigation ensnared three senior government officials, including two from the Party's elite Central Committee. Pham Sy Chien, a former deputy national chief prosecutor, received a six-year sentence while Tran Mai Hanh, the former head of state radio, got 10 years. Both were found guilty of taking bribes to help Nam Cam get an early release from a labor camp in the mid 1990s.

The court imposed a four-year sentence on Bui Quoc Huy, former vice minister of public security and police chief of Ho Chi Minh City, for not arresting Nam Cam.

At a news conference, presiding Judge Bui Hoang Danh expressed hope the case would have serve as a warning to others.

"Any person who commits crime must be brought to justice regardless of his position," he said.

Some observers said the sentences for the officials were too lenient given the nature of the crimes and the sentences imposed on other defendants.

"Those corrupt officials should get severe punishment so that others will not get involved in corruption," said Vu Thi Viet, who stood outside the courthouse in the afternoon heat to hear the sentences announced through loudspeakers. "I want to see less corruption and less other crimes so that people can live peacefully."

Local media aggressively covered the trial and defense attorneys were given free rein to make their arguments - two signs of judicial reform, according to some observers.

"It's not that difficult to eliminate one mafia boss, but to remove the links between a mafia gang with law enforcement is quite difficult," said Nguyen Cong Khe, editor of Thanh Nien newspaper. "We can learn lessons from this trial."

Nam Cam's attorney said the trial was the most freedom he has enjoyed representing a client in a country where judges typically interrupt or silence defense lawyers.

"This trial served as the beginning of reform of the judiciary process," he said. "We are ready to integrate with the world. This is an excellent opportunity for our country, for our people."


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