Peter Laking [UL]
The Trial of Peter Laking [UK] detained in Vietnam
Peter Laking [UK] Update from Fair Trials Abroad [as of June 2007]:

Since April 2006 Peter Laking has been faced with an agonising wait for news of his fate, during which time he has suffered a stroke. Whilst in recovery, he was told that his trial would start on 23rd April 2007. This was postponed at the last minute. The trial finally started on 12th June 2007 only to be adjourned for reinvestigation once more, as the prosecution had no evidence to support the charges against Peter.

Source: Fair Trials Abroad

The story thus far...

Peter Laking is a 58 year old British national from West Sussex who, together with his business partner Sean McCormack (also British), moved to Vietnam to start up a quarrying business in 1993. In early 1995 their first quarry was licensed. Later the same year two wealthy Irish businessmen, one of whom had been a long-time friend of Mr McCormack’s, asked to join them in the business and eventually the four men invested in further projects. The two Irishmen, still based in Ireland, left the day-to-day running of the business to Messrs Laking and McCormack, but continued to visit Vietnam regularly. At first things ran smoothly but the relationship deteriorated as the four men began to have disagreements of a personal nature during the late 1990’s.

In June 2002 the row erupted with the two Irishmen’s claim that a quarry in which they claimed to be 50% shareholders, had been sold by Laking and McCormack 2 years earlier without their knowledge and the proceeds shared between them. A solicitor’s letter was sent to the operating company’s bankers in Vietnam on behalf of a company owned by the two Irishmen claiming that a dispute had arisen and that they, through a holding company, were in fact the beneficiaries of any funds held in the account. Laking and McCormack instructed a high profile firm of lawyers in Dublin to reply to the Irishmen’s lawyers, categorically refuting these claims and stating that that specific quarry had been sold prior to the Irishmen’s buying in to that company and that the Irishmen had always known that it (the company in which they purchased a 50% shareholding) was to be an empty vehicle to be used for future investments. Laking and McCormack claimed that the sale proceeds had been used to clear a loan they had taken out for their original investment in that specific quarry and that in fact the funds received for the sale had left them with a significant shortfall. A flurry of legal correspondence between both sides and the two Irishmen lodged a civil claim against Laking and McCormack in the British High Court in August 2002. Two separate British legal firms took up the battle on behalf of the respective parties and the high court claim in the UK was subsequently dropped when no supporting evidence was produced by the claimants.

On 22nd August 2002 the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security received a letter from the Irishmen making a formal complaint against Laking and McCormack. The written accusations of fraud were exactly the same as those specified in the British High Court case which had been dropped due to lack of evidence i.e a) Fraudulent appropriation of US$210,000 representing 50% of the sale proceeds of the quarry and b) US$75,000 being 50% of the value of a Brown Lennox crushing machine.

A full police enquiry subsequently took place during which time Laking and McCormack were prevented from leaving the country. They were both summoned for questioning at the police offices and gave their full co-operation to the investigation answering all the questions asked of them and presenting supporting evidence. After approximately 3 months the investigation was closed and Laking and McCormack were allowed to return home in time for Christmas 2002. Both men returned to Vietnam in January 2003.

They continued unreservedly to refute all accusations of fraudulent activity or wrongdoing. Sean McCormack claims that he was continually harassed and undermined by police and employees of the two Irishmen until eventually, fearing for his life, he left everything he owned in Vietnam in May 2003 to return to the UK. On his arrival back in the UK, through his British lawyer, Mr McCormack informed the Vietnamese Police Authorities as well as the British Embassy in Hanoi, Interpol and the British Authorities of his whereabouts and making himself available for interview if necessary. He even wrote to the Prime Minister of Vietnam in Hanoi outlining his experiences! To date he has heard nothing from any of the authorities; nor has he returned to Vietnam.

Peter Laking returned to the UK in March 2003 because his mother was terminally ill. After her death in April 2004 Peter Laking decided to return to pick up the pieces of his life and his business interests in Vietnam. Before leaving the UK he checked with the Vietnamese Authorities and was assured that there were no outstanding charges against him in Vietnam. However, on his arrival at the airport in Vietnam on 16th May 2004 he was stopped at immigration and held for questioning by the Ministry of Public Security first at the airport for preliminary questioning but later he was brought to their offices for further questioning. He was held from the time of his arrival mid-morning until 7pm that evening without food, or being informed of his rights and without access to a lawyer or a representative of the British Government. Without being able to speak to a lawyer or anyone at the British Consulate during the night he returned the next morning (Sunday) at 9am as instructed and was questioned throughout the day, although he frequently pointed out that all of the questions had been previously answered by him in the earlier investigation and also during the British High Court action. They ignored all of his protests and told him that unless he was more co-operative and told the truth that he would be held overnight in prison. The only interpreter present was an officer in their investigation team and the statements were all in Vietnamese with any translation only being verbal. When he constantly protested that he could not change his story because what he had told them was the truth, he was taken to his apartment and formally arrested and his computer and all of his paperwork was confiscated. Some of that paperwork as well as papers that he was carrying at the time of his arrest contained documentation that supported his explanation of the facts but despite his constant referral to these documents he has not been allowed any access to them since then. That night Mr Laking was taken to the tiny prison cell where he was to spend the next 13 months; sleeping on a tiled floor, locked up with a Vietnamese prisoner who spoke no English. He was given no explanation of what was to happen to him and was in a total state of shock. . 'He was charged under section 4 of Article 139 of the criminal code for defrauding to take over property on two counts and was horrified to realise that he could face the death penalty.

Mr Laking has subsequently informed the British Consul and members of his family, that commencing approximately ten days after his arrest and imprisonment, the two Irishmen who were behind the charges against him were allowed to visit him in the prison on 4 separate occasions, with their lawyer, their lawyer’s assistant and another member of their lawyer’s staff along with 2 officers from the Ministry of Public Security who spoke no English. He said that he was then ‘coerced’ into signing over all of his Vietnamese assets to the two Irishmen even though these assets were worth a lot more than the sum in dispute. He was told by the Irishmen (one of whom is a lawyer!) and the police that if he signed the papers transferring his assets then the charges would be dropped and he would get out of prison. At this stage Mr Laking had still been denied access to anyone other than the investigating officers in his case. He had been locked in his cell with the light on for twenty-four hours a day, sleeping on the floor with no idea of even what time it was and he was severely disorientated. He agreed to sign but he made it clear that he was only signing the papers because he had no option other than to do so, and that his signing of same was not in any way an admission of guilt on his part.

For the first four months of his time in prison Mr Laking had no access whatsoever to a lawyer. Then when a lawyer was eventually appointed Mr Laking was given only limited access to him, and was never allowed to see him without the police being present. Because of this he decided to put his side of the story on paper for his lawyer to read. However, because he had no access to a pen or paper he had to inform the prison guards as to why he needed this and they insisted that he returned the finished work to them so that the police could check it, prior to handing it on to his lawyer. The police did not pass it on to his lawyer despite protests from Mr Laking, his lawyer and the British Consul.

In January 2005 the trial against Peter Laking was finally heard. Amidst farcical scenes on the first day of the trial the court translators had to be dismissed after complaints were made by the British Consulate staff members who were present that he was not receiving a fair trial because of the inept quality of the translation service being provided. It later transpired that both interpreters were employees of the firm of lawyers (in Vietnam) representing the two Irishmen who were behind the charges against Mr Laking. Furthermore, one of the translators had in fact been one of the members of that same lawyer’s staff who had been present at each of the 4 meetings held in the prison with the Irishmen, their lawyer and two members of the Ministry of Public Security, when Peter Laking had been pressurised into signing over all of his Vietnamese assets. At the trial Mr Laking requested the court for access to his defence papers but his request was ignored, and the chairman of the Board of Judges continually refused to let his lawyer present documents to the court that supported his story.

The trial was adjourned on 20th January 2005 for ‘further investigation’ and Mr Laking was returned to his prison cell. His case was raised by Minister Douglas Alexander on 22nd March 2005 when he met with the President of the National Assembly in Vietnam but no further progress was made as a result of this. Shortly after the trial he was visited by his lawyer who advised him that he would get bail fairly quickly but he then didn’t come back to see him until two months later. By this time Mr Laking had begun to realise that his lawyer was ineffective and was beginning to wonder who he was actually working for, so he dismissed him and appointed a Vietnamese friend who agreed to arrange bail for him. Despite this, the police still allowed the ‘dismissed’ lawyer to visit Mr Laking on several occasions and he was threatened that unless he reappointed him (the lawyer) that his bail application would go back to square one and could take months. The lawyer also tried, in conjunction with the police who were always present at these meetings, to force Mr Laking to sign a document saying that the bail money would be forfeited if he was found guilty. He was put under extreme mental pressure to sign this document but he refused, explaining that the money, which was being raised by his family, did not belong to him, thus he was not in a position to sign such a document.

Peter Laking was finally released from prison on bail of US$75,000 in June 2005, without his passport and under surety by a Vietnamese friend that he would reside at her family home pending retrial. One of the conditions of his bail is that he is not allowed to discuss his case with anyone except his lawyer. Prior to his release on bail Peter Laking was re-indicted on the 20th May 2005, he was now charged with breach of trust under Article 158 of the criminal code on one count only. On November 21st 2005 an identical indictment was issued. Eventually in early March 2006 he was served with official notice that a new trial would be held on Monday, 28th March 2006. However he was called in to his lawyer’s office on Friday 25th March where he was served with official notice of postponement of his trial.

So now, at the end of April 2006, twenty-three months after his arrest and incarceration Peter Laking is still awaiting trial for crimes of which he has always proclaimed his innocence. He had no idea where his future lies. He has no money, no right to work or travel and has not seen his family in almost 2 years. He is totally dependent on his Vietnamese friends who have guaranteed him, and indeed without whom he would still be languishing in a Vietnamese prison awaiting ‘further investigation’. Indeed Peter Laking is paying a terrible price for what seems to be an act of personal revenge from his two former business associates who have been unduly influencing the judicial proceedings against him.

Main Grounds Of Concern Regarding Fair Trial Procedures
  • Peter Laking did not have any access to a lawyer for a period of 4 months.
  • He was neither allowed to communicate with his lawyer in private nor was his right for privileged correspondence with his lawyer upheld
  • The authorities had confiscated documents, which are essential for Peter Laking’s defence and have withheld them ever since
  • He was forced to sign documents in Vietnamese language, which he did not understand
  • He was coerced in signing over his assets to the claimants, while imprisoned
  • The claimants were allowed to intimidate him on 4 occasions during his imprisonment
  • The Interpreters on the first day of his trial were supplied by the legal representatives of the claimants and deeply biased
  • Despite the fact that the further investigation, which the court ordered in January 2005, did not lead to any new evidence, Peter is still waiting to appear in court again, a violation of his right to be tried without undue delay;

  • Write to Peter Laking. (care of Fair Trials Abroad, 3rd Floor, Downstream Building, 1 London Bridge, London SE1 9BG, UK )Your letter will raise his spirits during his nerve-wracking period of waiting for his trial to be rescheduled.
  • Write to his MEP Caroline Lucas, UK Office, Suite 58, The Hop Exchange, 24 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TY, UK, who has taken a strong interest into what we believe to be a miscarriage of justice.
  • Write to the Vietnamese Ambassador in London (Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, attention of the Ambassador, HE. Mr. Trinh Duc Du, 12-14 Victoria Road, London W8 5RD) to voice your strong concern about the obvious abuse of process in this case.
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