March 19, 1995 in Nation/World

Illegal Building On Dike Threatens Hanoi

Kathy Wilhelm Associated Press

In one of Vietnam’s biggest scandals in years, three officials have been accused of allowing illegal construction on a crucial dike that shields the capital from floods.

The three are the first to be charged in the construction over the last two years of more than 1,100 homes, small hotels and restaurants along a dike that holds back the Red River and separates it from Hanoi’s scenic West Lake. Experts say the building has increased the danger of floods to Hanoi’s 2 million residents.

The case, which has become a litmus test of the government’s readiness to punish official wrongdoing, broke when dozens of cracks were discovered in the dike. The charges were announced Saturday.

Reports in the state-run news media said officials at local and national levels had approved the construction even though it violated safety regulations. The reports said nearly half the buildings belong to government employees, soldiers and police.

Though no one has been charged with corruption, the reports suggest officials may have taken bribes.

The three men charged were responsible for issuing construction licenses and were all fired several weeks ago.

The newspaper Lao Dong (Labor) said they are accused of abusing their power to issue illegal licenses. They have not been jailed, and several higher-level officials are being questioned.

Trials against public officials are rare in Vietnam, and people are used to cover-ups of official wrongdoing.

Vietnam’s recent economic boom increased demand for office and housing space and drove real estate speculators onto the dike. It quickly became dotted with four- and five-story villas, some of which have been rented to foreign companies and diplomats.

Premier Vo Van Kiet has ordered that the buildings be torn down and the dike repaired by the end of June, before the start of heavy seasonal rains in July and August.

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