S'porean at Vietnam airport feared if he didn't 'tip' officer, he wouldn't get his passport chopped

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The Vietnamese immigration officer who allegedly asked a Singaporean traveller for a 'tip' at the Noi Bai International Airport has been temporarily suspended and the incident is being investigated, said Vietnam authorities.

Singaporean Kugan Pillai posted about the incident on Facebook on Jan 2.

In the post, he recounted: "I was at Hanoi’s airport immigration departing to Singapore today when this immigration officer wrote 'tips' on my air ticket.

"He was holding my passport and asking for it. I asked him for what, but he just kept pointing to what he wrote. I didn’t know what to do or whom to asked for help and I was also rushing for my flight. I gave in to him in the end by giving (him) 500,000 dong (S$28)...

"I know this may be normal in other countries, but I feel that I was held hostage. If I didn’t give the money, I wouldn’t get my passport chopped."

His post has been shared more than 11,000 times.

In response to a Stomp query, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman said: "MFA is aware of the incident and has advised Mr Pillai on how he could submit an official complaint to the relevant local authorities in Vietnam in accordance with the local laws and procedures.

"Singaporeans who face similar situations overseas may wish to make reports to the relevant local authorities."

The Facebook post has also made the news in Vietnam.

Mr Pillai told BBC News Vietnamese that he was in Vietnam from Dec 24 to Jan 2 for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

He said when he asked the immigration officer how much to give for the "tip", the officer indicated 200,000 dong (S$11).

But Mr Pillai said he had only a 500,000 dong note and asked if the officer would accept it and return the change. Mr Pillai said the officer nodded, but after Mr Pillai gave him the money, the officer acted like nothing had happened and did not give Mr Pillai back his change.

"I had to leave the counter when he asked me to go and called the next person," Mr Pillai recounted to BBC.

"I gave the money in fear because I had heard bad things happen and I was with my girlfriend at that time. I was afraid they would hurt her if I didn't compromise."

Mr Pillai said he took a picture of the officer while waiting to check in his baggage.

"I took the risk even though I knew I shouldn't use the phone in that area, but I really didn't have a choice. I've read and heard about corruption but not at the airport."

He added: "There are a lot of Vietnamese people who have messaged me saying they are grateful for the article because they have experienced the same thing themselves. They have complained about it, but no action has been taken. If this helps the people in Vietnam, I'm glad I spoke up.

"I also expected that there would be people hating and attacking me on Facebook, but actually, a lot of people are on my side and defending me."