Photo/Illutration Shionogi Pharmaceutical Research Center in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture (Provided by Shionogi & Co.)

Japan’s Shionogi & Co. Ltd. said its COVID-19 projects in Vietnam are still progressing, after fraud scandals enveloped its partner there and the health ministry.

Shionogi is carrying out trials of its experimental COVID vaccine and oral treatment in Vietnam, following a memorandum of understanding with the government and Advanced International Joint Stock Co. (AIC) in November.

Vietnam’s health minister Nguyen Thanh Long was arrested on Tuesday, following dismissal from his post on charges of falsely inflated prices for COVID tests.

AIC’s President Nguyen Thi Thanh Nhan has reportedly fled Vietnam after authorities there filed charges in late April related to violations of bidding regulations on a hospital project.

“Although we are concerned about this incident, we understand that it is not a crime committed by AIC itself, and we have heard that the incident itself is under investigation,” Shionogi said in a statement.

“For the time being, we will continue our development in cooperation with AIC, the CRO (contract research organization), and others under the guidance of the Vietnamese Ministry of Health and in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations.”

Shionogi’s COVID vaccine and oral treatment have yet to be approved and shrinking numbers of cases in Japan have made it more difficult to test the efficacy of the candidates. Trials for the vaccine started in Vietnam in December, while a study of the pill is underway in Vietnam and South Korea, according to a company presentation in May.

AIC did not respond to a request for comment. Calls to former health minister Long’s phone went unanswered. The whereabouts of AIC’s Nhan are unknown, though she is suspected to be in Europe.

Vietnam has recorded 10.7 million COVID-19 infections since the beginning of the pandemic, with 43,000 fatalities, according to the Ministry of Health.

The country has administered 222.25 million doses of vaccines for its population of 98 million, according to government data. Almost all of its adult population have been at least triple vaccinated.

A person familiar with Vietnamese government issues said the deal with Shionogi and the government appeared to be dead.

“What they signed was just an MoU and not a binding agreement,” said the person, who asked not to be identified. “COVID is almost over now, too.”