Khanh Hoa Court Upholds One-year Non-custodial Reform on Human Rights Lawyer Tran Vu Hai and His Wife forTax Evasion

Human rights lawyer Tran Vu Hai in his appeal in Feb 2020


Defend the Defenders, February 22, 2020


On February 21, the People’s Court of Khanh Hoa province upheld the one year of non-custodial reform on human rights attorney Tran Vu Hai and his wife Ngo Tuyet Phuong on tax evasion charge under Article 161 of the 1999 Penal Code.

After one week, the court issued its final decision to keep the sentences given by the lower court, the People’s Court of Nha Trang City. Accordingly, Mr. Hai and his wife have 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 citizenNgo Van Lam and Vietnamese Norwegian Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh. The deal value was about VND16 billion but the sellers 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.

Nearly two dozens lawyers took part in the appeal to protect Mr. Hai. Like in the first-instance hearing on November 15 last year, Khanh Hoa province’s 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 Norway and the house she 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.

Mr. Hai reported on his Facebook page that the judge ordered the representative of the Nha Trang tax authorities and the representative of the province’s Procuracy not to answer the questions of lawers.

Authorities in Khanh Hoa probed the case in early July last year and placed the four under restricted travel, including travel abroad. In addition, Khanh Hoa police also conducted searching Mr. Hai’s law office and 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.