U.S. phone scammer gets 13 years jail in Vietnam

A court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced a U.S. company executive to 13 years in jail last week for stealing phone time worth 60 billion dong (US$4 million), according to an official government report.

The severity of the sentence reflected the fact that this is a new and sophisticated type of crime in Vietnam, capable of inflicting enormous economic damage on the state telecommunication industry, the report said.

Nguyen Duc Tam, a U.S. citizen of Vietnamese origin, leased a private line from the International Communications Center (ICC) in Ho Chi Minh City, running between his employer’s U.S. head office and its Vietnam representative office, which he ran.

Tam then rented 48 telephones and began reselling phone services totalling 5.5 million minutes, contrary to the terms of the contract. Half of the revenue from this service should have gone to state carrier Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Corp. (VNPT) and half to overseas carriers.

In addition to serving the jail sentence, Tam will also have to pay 60 billion dong in compensation to VNPT, pay an outstanding one billion dong bill to Saigon Post and Telecommunications Joint Stock Co. and 744 million dong to the ICC, the report said.

Several officials in the ICC are also under investigation for their part in the scam, the report said.

The incident may strengthen the hand of conservative elements in Vietnam’s telecommunication industry, that have argued that opening up the market too quickly may expose the country to unscrupulous and even dangerous foreign players. VNPT Chairman Do Trung Ta has consistently opposed a mobile phone venture being proposed by a South Korean consortium on similar grounds.