Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security on Monday said it has begun a criminal investigation into what it described as a fraudulent purchase of land by detained RFA blogger Truong Duy Nhat, on the same day searching his house in Danang city for evidence in the case, media and other sources said.
Nhat, a weekly contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, disappeared in Bangkok in late January amid fears he was abducted by Vietnamese agents, and two months later was revealed to be in a Hanoi jail, in what legal experts have called a violation of Vietnam’s criminal procedure laws by the country’s police.
On March 25, Vietnam’s police ministry told reporters at a news conference that Nhat had been detained because of his involvement in a land corruption case at the newspaper where he used to be a bureau chief in Danang in the 1990s.
While serving on the staff of Vietnam’s Dai Doan Ket newspaper, “Nhat took advantage of documents with the newspaper to buy public land without going through an auction,” the VnExpress newspaper said in a June 10 report.
The purchase had then resulted in “losses to the state exchequer,” the paper said.
Speaking to RFA on Monday, writer and family friend Pham Xuan Nguyen said that he had been informed by friends that police had searched Nhat’s house on Monday after presenting a warrant almost five months old.
“They came and read the search order. However, the order was signed on Jan. 16. And though Nhat was arrested on Jan. 28, for some reason they have waited till June 10 to carry out their search,” Nguyen said.
Also speaking to RFA, Nhat’s attorney Tran Vu Hai confirmed that Nhat’s house had been searched, adding that he has so far been blocked from registering to represent the detained blogger in the state’s case against him.
“I have been following the procedure to register to represent Nhat, but have not heard any response yet,” Hai said. “I know that they just searched his house, but they already had a prosecution order written out and issued long before that.”
Delays in carrying out a search so long after an order has been given are unusual, Dang Dinh Manh, a Vietnamese attorney not involved in Nhat’s case, told RFA on Monday.
“Normally they would conduct a house search to find evidence related to the crime and the case at the same time that the order to prosecute is announced. It is unusual to issue a search order in January and then not carry that out until now,” he said.
It is also unusual to limit a defendant’s access to his lawyers in cases of economic crimes, Manh said.
“At first, people thought that [Nhat’s] case would be tied to national security concerns because of his support for democracy, but in cases of economic crimes there are usually no limits to access for lawyers or family members during the period of investigation.”
“So the investigative office is abusing their power in this case,” he said. “I think that lawyer Tran Vu Hai should definitely complain about this.”