HANOI, VIETNAM (AP) – Vietnam’s health minister and the mayor of the capital Hanoi have been arrested as part of an expanding investigation into massive price gouging of COVID-19 tests, state media reported.
Nguyen Thanh Long was dismissed from his ministry post and Chu Ngoc Anh, who previously was the science minister, was fired as Hanoi mayor, Tuoi Tre online news outlet reported on Tuesday.
They are being investigated for abuse of power, according to the Ministry of Public Security, and have been expelled from the ruling Communist Party.
An investigation concluded earlier that mismanagement in the science and health ministries had allowed Viet A Technology Corporation to inflate prices for test kits supplied to hospitals and health centres in Vietnam.
Nearly 60 suspects including ministry officials, public health leaders and military generals have been detained or are being investigated for involvement in the price gouging, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
The report said the two officials’ violations had harmed Vietnam’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and were costly to the state budget. A deputy science minister, Pham Cong Tac, also was arrested on Tuesday and accused of violating regulations on managing state assets.
Viet A took in USD172 million for supplying its test kits in 62 localities. Its general director was arrested in December and allegedly admitted his Ho Chi Minh City-based company had inflated the selling price of a test kit to about USD20, or 45 per cent more than the original, to earn a difference of USD21.5 million.
Phan Quoc Viet allegedly confessed to investigators that he paid illegal kickbacks worth USD34 million to his state-owned partners who bought the kits at the inflated prices.