Human Rights Lawyer Tran Vu Hai and His Wife Convicted of Tax Evasion, Sentenced to One-year Non-custodial Reform

Human rights lawyer Tran Vu Hai in his trial on November 13-15


Defend the Defenders, November 15, 2019


On November 15, the People’s Court of Nha Trang city, Khanh Hoa province convicted human rights attorney Tran Vu Hai and his wife Ngo Tuyet Phuong and two local citizens of tax evasion under Article 161 of the 1999 Penal Code, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The couple was sentenced to one year of non-custodial reform and was ordered to pay an administrative fine of VND20 million ($850) each for the crime they have not committed, according to the lawyers providing legal assistance for the experienced couple attorneys.

According to the indictment against them, they were accused of committing a tax evasion worth VND276 million in a property deal in 2014. Mr. Hai and his wife reportedly bought a land parcel from Khanh Hoa province-based citizens Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh and Ngo Van Lam. The deal value was about VND16 billion but they reported to the local authorities just VND1.8 billion, by that way the sellers paid less tax for the deal. The province’s tax authorities had approved the deal.

As many as more than 60 lawyers had been registered to the court to voluntarily defense for the couple. However, many of them were denied and only around 40 were allowed to attend the trial which was treated as a political one since the local authorities deployed a large number of police officers to block all the roads leading to the court areas and the lawyers were under strict security check-up before entering the courtroom. They were requested to leave all electrical devices, including laptops and cell phones outside. A few reporters of the state-run newspapers were allowed to enter the courtroom to cover the trial.

The defense lawyers said as buyers, Mr. Hai and his wife are not subjects for tax payment for the deal, and they are innocent since the province’s tax authorities approved the deal. Ms. Hanh is a citizen of Belgium so the case should be handled by an upper court and the Nha Trang city’s People’s Court is not eligible for the case. In addition, the property Ms. Hanh sold to Mr. Hai was the only house she owned so she is not required to pay tax for the deal, according to current Vietnam’s law.

The trial lasted three days, longer than other cases with similar characters. On the first day, one of the defense attorneys, Nguyen Duy Binh was rudely expelled out of the courtroom and was taken out by two policemen after questioning Ms. Hanh about her legal representation. Binh was interrogated for hours in a local police station.

Authorities in Khanh Hoa probed the case in early July and placed the four under restricted travel, including travel abroad. In addition, Khanh Hoa police also conducted searching Mr. Hai’s law office and a private residence in Hanoi, in which they allegedly took away a large sum of money and documents from other cases.

It is clear that the allegation and convictions against Mr. Hai and his wife are political as recently the Ministry of Public Security denied Mr. Hai’s request for representing former prisoner of conscience Truong Duy Nhat who is accused of “power abuse” after being kidnapped in Bangkok and taken to Vietnam in late January.

Lawyer Hai is well-known for his participation in sensitive cases to represent victims of injustice, victims of forced land appropriation and political dissidents.