Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has urged police to conduct thorough investigations on an alleged case of inflating price at Viet A Company, the supplier of Covid-19 PCR test kits for many Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nationwide.
Notably, the kits are not certified by the World Health Organization (WHO).
|Viet A test kit. Photo: VNA|
In a request made on December 22, Chinh asked competent agencies to soon bring wrongdoers to justice while quickly recovering corrupt assets. He required the Ministry of Health and localities to check the bidding, procurement, and use of drugs, biological products, and medical equipment.
The request was made four days after police launched an investigation on seven people including Phan Quoc Viet, Chairman of Viet A Technology JSC and his subordinates for “violating regulations on bidding, causing serious consequences.”
Viet is accused of colluding with health officials in different localities to supply test kits. He is believed to bribe local health officials a large amount of money to win test kits tenders. Viet is in detention for four months to serve the investigations.
Police also arrested Pham Duy Tuyen, Director of Hai Duong CDC and Nguyen Manh Cuong, former Chief Accountant at Hai Duong CDC for the same charge. Viet A and Hai Duong CDC signed five contracts worth VND151 billion ($6.5 million). Pham Duy Tuyen allegedly bagged VND27 billion ($1.2 million) worth of bribes from Viet A.
Phan Quoc Viet and the company’s executives confessed that Viet A took full advantage of simplified bidding procedures given in the context of urgency caused by the pandemic to approach CDCs and hospitals across the country to offer the products.
Initial investigations showed that Viet A supplied test kits to 62 cities and provinces, earning nearly VND4 trillion (US$174 million).
Viet A test kit was marketed at VND470,000 ($20)/unit. In fact, several medical institutes had to purchase at higher prices.
LightPower iVA SARS-CoV-2 1st RT-PCR Kit developed by Viet A was the first test kit produced in Vietnam. It got a temporary license from the Ministry of Health in March 2020 and was officially approved in December 2020 for five-year circulation.
On April 26, 2020, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) said on its website that Viet A’s test kits were certified by WHO under the organization’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL) with item code EUL 0524-210-00. On the same day, the company told the media the same news.
On December 20, 2021 (two days after police opened the case), the content published on the MOST portal was removed.
On December 22, 2021, WHO Vietnam announced that Viet A products failed to meet requirements. “The product profile was evaluated and did not meet the requirements. The WHO has publicized the EUL report on this product profile,” it said.
According to police, dozens of local CDCs bought Viet A test kits, namely those in Bac Ninh, Nam Dinh, Ha Nam, Danang, Ha Tinh, Nghe An, Thua Thien-Hue, Dong Nai, Long An, Dong Thap, among others. The two biggest cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City said they made no contract with Viet A.
Police are working with more cities and provinces for further investigations.
|Phan Quoc Viet, Chairman of Viet A Technology JSC. Photo: Ministry of Public Security|
Roles of state management
Three days after police opened the case, the Ministry of Health (MOH) sent a report to the media. It said that it was right when licensing Viet A test kits “at a time when it is difficult to access biological supplies in the world.”
The ministry said that it also licensed many other items produced domestically and internationally with an aim to increase the localization, supply capability, and boost competitiveness.
It said that the license is in accordance with law and does not depend on WHO’s certification.
Meanwhile, the prices were fixed through bidding between the suppliers and buyers, it stated. But many contracts were made via “negotiations” but not bidding, Tuoi Tre reported.
This is the first time after the case launched MOH raised its voice.
Lawmaker Pham Van Hoa told local media that Viet A could not have such a wide range of customers and supplied large volumes without being backed by some forces. He questioned about the price of VND470,000/kit set by MOH, the reason why MOH selected the WHO-uncertified test kits but not cheaper imported products. He also questioned about possible vested interest in the case.
“It’s necessary to clarify the responsibilities of relevant localities, ministries, and agencies, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Military Medical Academy,” Hoa said.
He suggested that it should be added to the list of serious cases managed by the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption [The committee is chaired by Secretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong].
Former lawmaker Le Nhu Tien said Viet A alone could not inflate the price and it’s necessary to punish someone who backed the wrongdoings. He demanded to check the role of MOH in this case.