Is the Vietnam Reform Revolutionary Party a criminal group or a legitimate opposition party

Viet Tan has positioned itself as a pro-democracy group. But the group’s bloody history and suspicious conduct raise concerns over its real goals.

By Oliver Ward 

The California-based Vietnam Reform Revolutionary Party, or Viet Tan, may be an elaborate front for a complex network of criminals and terrorists. The Vietnamese government declared the organisation as a terrorist group and warned the public to avoid giving it financial support.

Can the public trust the Vietnamese government’s verdict? It has a long record of silencing critics and opposition. Is the Viet Tan an expanding terrorist and criminal organisation or a legitimate opposition party facing unjust persecution?

The group began life as the National United Front for the Freedom of Vietnam (NUFLV)

In 1982, an ex-vice admiral of the South Vietnamese navy named Hoang Co Minh formed the NUFLV. It began as a movement to stir up opposition to the Communist Party of Vietnam among the Vietnamese population living in exile in the United States.

The group’s initial aim was to topple the communist regime in Vietnam. To achieve its goal, it set up camps in the mountains of Thailand to train recruits and to establish bases from which it could launch an armed offensive into Vietnam.

In 1984, the NUFLV group leaders changed the organisation’s name to Viet Tan and realigned its objectives to transform Vietnam through political and peaceful means. However, its methods remained far from peaceful.

To create instability and disrupt the Vietnamese Communist government, Viet Tan smuggled counterfeit currency into Vietnam. It also brought in cocaine and heroin as part of a campaign to undermine the communist government and create a drug epidemic among the Vietnamese population.

The group cheated money out of wealthy Vietnamese living in exile

Between the group’s formation in the 1980s to 2017, the group has extracted more than US$100 million from the Vietnamese community living abroad. The group claimed that it had a force of 10,000 soldiers in Thailand waiting to enter Vietnam and topple the communist government. They used this empty promise to cheat money from benefactors at charity fundraising events.

Between 1982 and 1987, the group launched three failed military campaigns in Vietnam. The paramilitary unit entered the country from its Thai bases, through Cambodia and Laos. Since then, there has been no evidence of the group’s presence in Thailand.

Thailand has maintained a good diplomatic relationship with Vietnam, and the idea that the Thai government would knowingly permit a force of 10,000 Vietnamese soldiers to amass with the intention of toppling a neighbouring government seems far-fetched.

Given the size of the alleged force, it would also be impossible for the Viet Tan to transport enough food and weapons through Thailand to sustain 10,000 troops without the Thai authority’s knowledge.

According to Thai witnesses from the 1980s, there were small encampments of Viet Tan paramilitaries. However, the claim that large numbers of Viet Tan are still waiting to launch an offensive on Vietnam is a pure fabrication, devised to extract money from wealthy Vietnamese Americans to fund the personal lives of senior Viet Tan members.

Pham Thanh, an ex-Viet Tan member, called the organisation a “robber”, for robbing money from Vietnamese citizens living overseas.

The group also murdered journalists critical of its activities

In the early 1980s, Dam Phong, a journalist and undercover CIA agent, infiltrated the headquarters of the California-based organisation. A group of assassins shot him seven times outside his home in Houston Texas in 1982. Similar attacks occurred on critics of Viet Tan in 1981, 1987, 1989 and 1990.

Source: Vietnam Friendship

An investigation into the attacks by ProPublica pointed to the assassination arm of the party. Named the K9, the group included old members of the South Vietnamese navy. Katherine Tang Wilcox of the FBI went through the evidence for the murder of Dam Phong. She said the group were “highly trained” and picked up and removed the shell casings from the murder site. The group “wasn’t going to leave any evidence that would be remotely helpful behind”.

Ex-NUFLV member, Tranh Vanh Batu, called the K9 arm of the group a “secret unit”, he added that “K9 is professional. They do [a] good job, but they never get caught”.

Viet Tan has tried to break with its criminal past

The group is now trying to break with its violent past. It has established affiliated organisations like “VOICE”, “Viet Labor”, “Vietnam Human Rights Network” and “Fighters for Democracy”. Viet Tan vehemently denies any allegation that itself or the NUFLV ever had any connection to terrorism, violence or illegal activity.

What is Viet Tan? It claims it is a legitimate political party in opposition to the communist government, but it did not field any candidates for the 2016 legislative elections. Although, it continues to raise money from the Vietnamese American community.

Duy Hong, a U.S. spokesman for the Viet Tan, said the Viet Tan’s goal is “to promote political change through peaceful means”. Yet, the group uploaded video instructions on kidnapping and bombmaking and ran online courses on vandalism and terrorist acts.

The group promotes itself as a pro-democracy organisation

The recent offshoot of Viet Tan-established pro-democracy organisations represents the latest efforts for Viet Tan to cover up its real activity. According to Dam Phong’s son, Nguyen Thanh Tu, Viet Tan is nothing more than a tool to launder money and a way to enrich their leaders.

VOICE is one of the pro-democracy offshoots of Viet Tan. Its leader, Trinh Hoi owns three properties in the United States with a reported total value of US$2.5 million. Also, despite having been in operation within Vietnamese-American communities for more than 30 years, the Viet Tan still remains unregistered in the United States and does not pay taxes.

There are legitimate pro-democracy movements in Vietnam committed to highlighting government abuses of human rights but the Viet Tan affiliated groups are not examples of them.

The organisation has a bloody history. It also remains unregistered and does not field opposition candidates in Vietnamese elections. These factors, combined with the reliance of half-truths to generate revenue indicate an organisation involved in criminal dealings. When the pro-democracy façade comes crumbling down, what is left is a group with 30 years of blood on its hands, with the sole goal of enriching its leaders at the expense of Vietnamese-Americans.