HANOI: Dozens of people, including two former top cops, were convicted in Vietnam Friday (Nov 30) in connection with a US$420 million online gambling ring run by the official in charge of policing internet betting.
The gambling racket is the largest online ring ever busted in communist Vietnam, where most gambling is banned for locals though black market betting thrives online.
Following a three-week trial that was guarded by hundreds of police officers in northern Phu Tho province, 91 people were punished Friday in connection with the gambling ring worth US$420 million.
Some were given jail terms, ordered to pay fines or sentenced to house arrest.
The harshest sentence went to Nguyen Thanh Hoa, the 60-year-old former head of the "high-technology department" in charge of policing online gambling at the powerful Ministry of Public Security.
He got 10 years in jail for "abusing power while performing official duty", the official Vietnam News Agency reported.
Before his arrest in March, the now-disgraced official had gained a reputation for being tough on internet betting and had shut down hundreds of sites linked to illegal football betting.
His accomplice Phan Van Vinh, the former head of the police general department at MPS, was sentenced to nine years in jail on the same charge.
"(Vinh) caused discontent among the public and distrust of the police force," judge Nguyen Thi Thuy Huong said, quoted by state-controlled VNExpress news site.
Vinh, 63, was not present at the court Friday afternoon because he was admitted to hospital with high blood pressure, VNExpress reported.
In a testimony to the court, one of Vinh's co-accused said he gave the former police official hundreds of thousands dollars in bribes along with a Rolex watch, which Vinh denied.
Vinh and Hoa are among the most senior officials convicted as part of the government's anti-corruption sweep that has seen dozens of high-flying executives, bankers and officials put behind bars.
The anti-graft campaign with echoes of Beijing's massive corruption crackdown is being led by a conservative administration in charge since 2016.
The crackdown is championed by Nguyen Phu Trong, the head of Vietnam's Communist Party and the country's president, who has vowed to stamp out mismanagement at every level.
But observers say the drive is also aimed at eliminating political foes.
With 6.8 per cent GDP growth last year Vietnam is one of Asia's fastest-growing economies, but it also ranks among the most corrupt.
Transparency International ranks its 107 out of 180 on its Corruption Perceptions Index, behind Thailand and Indonesia.
The one-party state has started loosening rule on gambling for locals, announcing last year that Vietnamese citizens could gamble in casinos on a trial basis and opening up some sports betting.