HÀ NỘI — The Investigation Police Agency under the Ministry of Public Security has asked the Ministry of Transport to provide a list of “rescue” flights to repatriate Vietnamese citizens stranded overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of its investigation into bribery case at the Consular Department under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Transport Ministry was requested to direct units to provide the names of airlines, flight numbers, take-off and landing airports as well as aviation businesses that were authorised to operate these flights, the agency said in a document sent to the ministry.
The list of citizens returning from abroad on repatriation flights and contracts, payment costs of each flight, and conditions for citizens to return home should be clarified.
The agency also asked the Transport Ministry to hand over a list of individuals who are working at the ministry in charge of approving airlines and businesses that conducted “combo” (with fees borne by the passengers) and “rescue” flights which are free of charge.
In a statement the Transport Ministry said repatriation flights were carried out as the Party and State wanted to help stranded Vietnamese overseas who were in disadvantaged circumstances and needed to get home amid COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Transport Ministry has worked closely with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Public Security Ministry, Health Ministry, and Defence Ministry to conduct these flights, as assigned by the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control.
The Transport Ministry is responsible for directing the Civil Aviation Administration of Việt Nam to issue flight permits and flight service plans for the repatriation flights according to the Citizen Rescue Plan approved by the Consular Department on the basis of concurrence among relevant ministries and agencies, according to the statement.
“This is a mandatory procedure under aviation law and international practice for all flights,” it noted.
In addition, the Civil Aviation Administration of Việt Nam is responsible for informing and guiding airlines, domestic and foreign air traffic service providers, and airport operators in carrying out flight plans as well as implementation of COVID-19 regulations on flights and at airports, the statement reads.
Evaluating the demands of Vietnamese citizens stranded overseas, making the final list of approved passengers on these flights, or licensing businesses to operate ‘combo’ or ‘rescue’ flights, are not the tasks that the Transport Ministry were assigned, it claimed. The ministry has asked relevant departments and staff to provide the information requested by the investigation agency.
It has been working closely and responsibly to facilitate the flights to meet the demands of the Vietnamese citizens overseas.
Earlier, the Investigation Police Agency started legal proceedings against and arrested four high-ranking officials of the Consular Department for “taking bribes” in line with Article 354 of the Penal Code.
The four are Nguyễn Thị Hương Lan, born in 1974, head of the Consular Department; Đỗ Hoàng Tùng, born in 1980, deputy head of the department; Lê Tuấn Anh, born in 1982, chief of the department’s office; and Lưu Tuấn Dũng, born in 1987, deputy head of the citizen protection desk at the department.
They are accused of seeking personal gain in licensing some companies that organised special flights to take Vietnamese citizens abroad home from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with countries around the world enforcing various degrees of border closures.
The flights were frequently called out for being overly expensive, having complicated application procedures, and lack of transparency in the eligibility process.
After achieving high vaccination rate, Việt Nam has started to relax border rules starting in the beginning of 2022 and has lifted all restrictions on inbound/outbound flights as of February 15. — VNS