Vietnam ex-minister took $3 mln bribes in MobiFone case -police

HANOI, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Police in Vietnam have accused a former information minister of taking $3 million in bribes in connection with a controversial deal at state telecoms firm MobiFone, state media reported on Tuesday.

Nguyen Bac Son received the money to facilitate a deal in which MobiFone overpaid for a 95% stake in a loss-making pay television provider, the official Vietnam News Agency said, citing the results of a police investigation.

MobiFone, one of Vietnam's three largest mobile carriers by subscription, bought the stake in Audio Visual Global JSC for nearly 8.9 trillion dong ($383.65 million) in late 2015.

The government suffered financial losses as a result of the transaction, the report said.

Nguyen Bac Son "abused his position, for personal purposes, to direct his inferiors to violate regulations, causing serious damages," the news agency said, citing the police report.

The MobiFone case is the largest corruption investigation so far in Vietnam's anti-graft campaign that has already engulfed hundreds of government officials.

Audio Visual Global JSC chairman Pham Nhat Vu was arrested and accused of paying the bribes to Son, the news agency said.

Son, Vietnam's information minister from 2011 to 2016, was arrested in February on suspicion of mismanaging public investment.

Reuters was unable to contact lawyers for the two men.

Mobifone and Audio Visual Global did not immediately respond to Reuters' emails seeking comment.

Police have accused 12 other people, including another former information minister and former executives of MobiFone, of bribery and mismanagement, the news agency said, adding that eight had been arrested.

The police report has been sent to government prosecutors, the news agency said. Under Vietnam law, anyone found guilty of receiving bribes of one billion dong ($43,107) or more could face the death penalty.

A plan to sell a stake in MobiFone has long been touted as one of the most anticipated in Vietnam's privatisation drive, but it has never materialised.

The government said last month it would sell a stake of up to 50% in MobiFone by the end of 2020.

($1 = 23,198 dong)

(Reporting by Khanh Vu; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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