New fears over Vietnam adoptions

Date: 2006-07-24

By Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer

Concerns are raised about fraudster connections of newly-appointed facilitator here

HELPING Hands, the Irish adoption agency which now organises Vietnamese adoptions, has appointed My Linh Soland's sole employee as the new facilitator for all Irish adoptions.

The Irish Independent has also learned that the Irish Adoption Board received a letter warning about Ms Soland's activities in May 2004 shortly after she was appointed.

Last week Ms Soland admitted, in a series of secretly-recorded meetings, that all the Irish adoptions from Vietnam relied on corrupt payments to officials at every level of the process.

Ms Vu Thi Tanh Binh, who worked with Ms Soland on processing Irish adoptions, worked on all these adoptions. There is no evidence that she was involved in corruption or was aware of the corrupt practices.

When approached by the Irish Independent about her appointment as the Vietnamese facilitator, Ms Binh denied ever working for Ms Soland. When pressed, she admitted that she had "done some translation".

However, in a statement yesterday, Helping Hands said Ms Binh's connection was much more extensive than she now admits.

"She was an employee of My Linh Soland. Her role involved some translation work and she accompanied adoptive parents visiting the children referred to them, in their orphanages. She translated and assisted them through the Giving and Receiving Ceremony," the company said.

Families who have adopted from Vietnam say Ms Binh was intricately involved in the process, working closely with them and Ms Soland in securing their adoptions and paperwork. One parent, who asked not to be named, said the appointment meant it was "just business as usual" for Vietnamese adoptions.

Ms Binh was chosen to work with the new Cork-based Helping Hands adoption agency after a crisis meeting with CEO Sharon O'Driscoll in Vietnam two weeks ago.

Helping Hands said it was not a facilitator "but is completing adoptions already in the process".

Helping Hands described Ms Binh as a solicitor, but Ms Binh admitted to the Irish Independent that she has not finished college. Ms Soland was forced to resign as the Vietnamese facilitator after it was revealed she had a criminal record for fraud and intimidation of witnesses. She served a three-year prison sentence in the US.

Unaware she was being secretly recorded, Ms Soland revealed how the 150 adoptions she facilitated for Irish couples were accompanied by fraudulent paperwork which altered the children's histories.

She also revealed how $4,500 (€3,500), from the adoption fee, that was meant for humanitarian aid was instead diverted to corrupt officials at the very highest level of the adoption process in Vietnam.

The Irish Independent has also learned that the Irish Adoption Board was warned about Ms Soland's activities as soon as she was appointed facilitator.

Maxine Caswell, who works with the UK ethical adoption advocacy group OASIS, wrote to the adoption Board in May 2004 after learning about Ms Soland's appointment. The letter said Ms Soland was well known in adoption circles having worked for a number of "agencies and individuals".

Ms Caswell said it was her view, backed up by evidence from other adoptive parents who had "the misfortune to be involved with her during their adoptions that Ms Soland's motivation is financial rather than humanitarian".

Ms Caswell, whose organisation has worked with the UK government in trying to clean up foreign adoptions into the UK, said this meant that children were taken for adoption when they should have stayed with their families in Vietnam.

"I am concerned that the Vietnamese government is allowing a system which could perpetuate the use of 'middle men', and therefore profiteering," she said.

"These profits do not always come as a by-product of children already available for adoption but actually create incentives for people to make children available for adoption," the letter stated.

Yesterday, Ms Caswell said she had not received any response to the letter sent to the Adoption board.

- Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer


Pound Pup Legacy