|Sam Duc Xuong (1st, L), former principal of Viet Vinh High School in Ha Giang Province|
An appeal court in northern Vietnam has annulled the earlier verdict against a school principal found guilty of having sex with underage students and ordered a fresh investigation into the case.
At the end of a four-day trial last Monday, the Court of Appeals in the northern province of Ha Giang announced that last yearâs trial by the Vi Xuyen District Court of First Instance as well as previous investigations had âseriously violatedâ regulations.
The violations included not assigning a defense lawyer for an underage defendant and not allowing a lawyer of his choice for the primary defendant in the case.
Sam Duc Xuong, former principal of Viet Vinh High School in Ha Giangâs Bac Quang District, had been sentenced to ten and a half years in jail for having sex with at least nine underage students.
Xuong told the appeals court that he was not guilty and requested a more lenient sentence.
His victims included Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, 18, and Nguyen Thi Hang, 19, who were forced to have sex with Xuong while they were studying at the Viet Lam High School, where Xuong had been principal before being transferred to the Viet Vinh High School, the prosecution had alleged.
However, these victims were in turn found guilty of procuring other girls for the former principal. Hang had been sentenced to six years and Thuy to five years for their procurement offences.
The three defendants were arrested in September 2009 following reports by the victimsâ families.
The Ha Giang court said investigators had decided that a lawyer from the provincial Bar Association would defend Thuy, but had never done so.
The previous trial also violated regulated procedures in rejecting Xuongâs request to have a lawyer of his choice defend him.
However, the judges said they did not consider other confessions made by the defendants at the trial because they had neither been approved by authorized agencies nor had included the information in their appeal.
Lawyers for Thuy and Hang had submitted petitions to the board of judges at the trial, accusing five officials and entrepreneurs of having sex with them when they were under 18 years old. The young girls also told of being asked to sign, under duress, blank confession forms and documents refusing defense lawyers during the investigation.
Thuy and Hang also requested the court to accept their additional appeals because their earlier appeals were written as directed by police officials in the prison, and failed to fully reflect what they wanted to say, the Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.
The two students said they had been told to write their confessions as instructed by investigators who warned them they would have to be rewritten anyway if they failed to follow instructions.
They also alleged that they were told to sign blank confession forms as well as documents refusing defense lawyers during the investigation.
Hang revealed that a prosecutor and an investigator had told them to make their statements at the Court of Appeals in line with the indictment, saying this could help reduce their sentences.
Hang said she should not have been convicted of procuring and that she had sex with Xuong not for money but because the principal had threatened to reduce marks in her school records.
She admitted having had sex three times with Xuong, including once in a hotel and twice at his office, adding he gave her VND300,000 (US$16.24) to VND500,000 ($27.07) each time.
Hang and Thuy also said Xuong had threatened them and demanded that they find other virgin schoolgirls for him to have sex with.
State officials implied
Thuyâs lawyer, Tran Dinh Trien, said the two schoolgirls had confessed to the appeals court that they had sex with several officials, including a bank manager and police and customs officials.
âThey have clearly laid out the details of these accusations, including the date and time and venues that they had sex with these men, as well as their phone numbers,â Trien said.
Hangâs mother told Thanh Nien she was really upset when her daughter confessed to having sex with a provincial official in August 2008 when the 11th grader was only 17 years old.
Hoang Minh Nhat, secretary of Ha Giang Party Unit, said the agency would recommend relevant agencies to review the investigations and trial to find out if any crimes had not been pursued.
Commenting on the fact that several provincial officials have been accused of having sex with underage students, he said: âWe will not protect anyone. When everything is clear, we will take adequate measures as per the law.â
Cao Xuan Hung, head judge of the appeal trial, told Tuoi Tre that they didnât consider the accusations of involving state officials in the case because they were new circumstances.
However, he said they would be included in the new probe.
âWe followed the rules on what judges have to do at a trial. We followed no other instruction to do this or that in trying this case,â he added.
Reported by Thanh Nien staff