An official formerly in charge of land management in a Hanoi commune was sentenced to six and a half years in jail on Wednesday for “wrongful land transfer”.
The case goes back more than two decades with 14 officials charged with siphoning off the land meant for local farmers.
Nguyen Xuan Truong, who was in charge of land management in Dong Tam Commune, was singled out for being the ringleader of the illegal land grab.
13 other officials, including former natural resources officials, commune leaders and a chief of police, also received sentences up to three years behind bars.
They were charged with abuse of power and dereliction of duty.
According to prosecutors, the administration of Ha Tay Province (which was merged into Hanoi in 2008) ordered 5,600 square meters (1.4 acres) of land in Dong Tam to be allocated to 49 local families in 1996 for them to build houses on.
However, the officials only handed over land to 39 families and kept around 1,300 square meters for themselves.
Local media has not connected this case with a more high-profille bust-up involving military land in the same area that grabbed international headlines last April.
The other case has been lingering on for years and some locals are still fighting for what they believe to be their land. The situation became worse in February when military-owned telecoms giant Viettel started building an airport in the disputed area, and it reached a climax when police arrested four residents who refused to budge from the land.
Disgruntled villages immediately responded by taking 38 policemen and officials hostage.
It took a week to resolve the dramatic standoff, and Hanoi Mayor Nguyen Duc Chung was forced to intervene and give the villagers his personal assurances that the problem would be solved fairly.
City inspectors announced late last month that the disputed land had always belonged to the military. It said the military had rented the land to local residents for farming purposes, but the contracts had expired in 2012.
Some villagers have said that they will continue fighting because they believe they have legal rights over at least 17 hectares of the land.
Vietnam does not technically allow private land ownership but grants land-use rights, which confer the same rights as freehold status.
Land-related grievances remain the main source of concerns and protests in the country. In 2012, they accounted for 70 percent of all complaints lodged against the government, according to a parliamentary report. – VNExpress