Cablegate: Nam Cam Trial in Final Stages

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E. O. 12958: N/A

REF: HCMC 00189

1. (U) Convening after a 10-day recess that capped a trial which
ran from February 25 - May 24, the People's Court of Ho Chi Minh
City gathered June 4 to read the results of the case
investigations and the verdicts for the 155 defendants in the
trial of the underworld kingpin Truong Van Cam (a.k.a. Nam Cam).
As expected, all 155 defendants were found guilty. Their
sentences will be delivered June 5 at 2:00 pm.

2. (U) Post's repeated requests to gain access to the courtroom
or the press gallery to listen to the verdicts were denied, with
the External Relations Office (local branch of the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs) citing space limitations. ConGenoffs were
permitted to enter a large courtyard outside the courthouse,
where hundreds of family members and onlookers gathered to listen
to the proceedings, broadcast by speaker from the courtroom.
People spoke in hushed tones, becoming still at the crucial
moment when the verdict for their family member was read or when
unexpected information was introduced from the case

3. (U) At precisely 4:00 pm on June 4, a bell rang inside the
courtroom concluding the day's events. After several people
filed out of the building, a crowd of around 30 police gathered
at the top of the steps to the courthouse, while about 30 more
flanked the perimeter fences keeping the crowds back and the
parking area clear. A parade of trucks and armored vehicles,
escorted by roughly 40 traffic police and numerous riot police,
arrived to take the defendants back to prison. The 155 prisoners
emerged, dressed in white and green striped uniforms, each with
an attendant police officer, and descended the courthouse steps
to the vehicles. Members of the crowd called out to their
parents, siblings and children. Nam Cam emerged, gaunt, gray-
haired, but smiling, to shouts and applause from the crowd, which
accorded him celebrity status. Slowly the trucks started up,
turned on their sirens, and carried their cargo away.

4. (SBU) Circulating among the members of the crowd and
listening to the proceedings, ConGenoffs perceived mixed feelings
about the trial and its outcome. On the one hand, the trial
received broad local and some international media coverage, and
the proceedings were broadcast to the public in the courtyard and
will be televised during the reading of the sentences tomorrow.
One young lawyer said that the case gave him new hope for the
future of law and litigation in Vietnam. For the first time, he
explained, the defense attorneys for the defendants in this case
were allowed to meet their clients prior to the trial, had access
to the statements that were collected during the case
investigations, and were able to present arguments in court that
were critical of the government's handling of the case and its
interpretation of the law.

5. (SBU) On the other hand, during a case investigation that was
read today, the court said it had to consider the patriotic
revolutionary past of the defendant's father as bearing weight in
determining the defendant's sentence. Local newspapers also ran
several articles criticizing the defense attorneys for saying the
government had used illegal methods to conduct their
investigations. (Note: The Hanoi Bar Association reportedly spoke
out to defend these attorneys. End note.) Finally, the verdicts
read by the court cited only the information revealed in the
investigation prior to the trial, not the arguments or facts put
forward during the trial by the defense attorneys.

6. (SBU) There is general agreement that the trial is important,
but mixed feelings about its wider implications for fighting
corruption. One spectator, who lives in Nam Cam's neighborhood,
said he had considered him a "humanitarian," helping poor people
by providing coffins for their deceased relatives. But he also
said that when he learned of the horrible things that Nam Cam had
done, he wanted to see justice served. Another spectator said he
came to the courthouse to hear the verdict and sentence because
he didn't trust what might be printed in the newspapers. Several
members of the crowd echoed this sentiment, adding they wanted to
be there at this moment in history, when justice was served in
Vietnam and even policemen and government officials were called
to account. ConGenoffs will report on the trial in greater
detail after its conclusion.

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