The Central Inspection Committee, the top watchdog of the ruling Communist Party, has recommended disciplinary action against Dinh La Thang, the chief of the Party unit in Ho Chi Minh City.
In an extraordinary political event that shows the past can always catch up with the present, Thang, 57, is now held responsible for a series of “serious” violations several years ago at the state-owned oil and gas group PetroVietnam, his former workplace.
In particular, the inspectors held Thang mainly responsible for the mismanagement. He served as the board chairman from 2009 until 2011, when his political career took off as he joined Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s cabinet as Minister of Transport.
The recent inspection only focused on business violations at PetroVietnam between 2009 and 2015. The Party’s inspectors have found that he was responsible for illegal business decisions, including violations involving an investment in local lender OceanBank and “big bidding packages,” according to a post on the government website.
The post also noted that Thang was also responsible for “advising the Prime Minister to designate many bidding packages that failed to meet legal regulations.”
It said he was responsible for violations of the Law on Bidding related to the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract for Dung Quat Biofuel Plant as well as low investment efficiency in a number of projects, including the Dinh Vu Polyester manufacturing plant and bio-energy projects.
Thang has been a member of the Politburo, the 19-member decision-making body of the Communist Party, since early 2016. He became Ho Chi Minh City’s Party chief the same year.
In Vietnam, it is unusual for a Politburo member to face sanction. The most recent motion took place in 2012 when the Politburo proposed punishment against one of its members. But the proposal was struck down by the Central Committee, a powerful grouping of 175 Senior Party members.
The Central Committee is expected to have a major meeting in May.
Named transport minister at the age of 51, Thang was considered young enough in Vietnam's political apparatus to be groomed for higher places.
In a country where the masses are always yearning for the charismatic and stern leadership, Thang was catapulted into political stardom thanks to his verbose rhetoric and sometimes tough action.
Since moving to Ho Chi Minh City, he has continued grabbing headlines by populist statements that promised to address hot-button problems such as corruption, crimes, traffic jams, and education.
This week event came at a time the country’s top leadership, including Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, has exhibited steadfast determination to crack down on malfeasance and efficiency that have plagued the much-cosseted public sector.
“It is an important development,” said Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asia analyst in Washington.
Thang is not the only one facing tough actions: four other PetroVietnam bigwigs have already been punished or rebuked.
Nguyen Xuan Son, former chief of the group’s Party unit, was found to “have abused his position and authority and intentionally acted against the state regulations on economic management,” causing severe losses when he represented PetroVietnam at OceanBank. Son has also been expelled from the Communist Party and arrested in July 2015.
Phung Dinh Thuc, a member of the board in 2008-2010, and Do Van Hau, general director of the group from late 2011 to late 2014, had “provided wrong assessments” of Trinh Xuan Thanh, who has been wanted on charges of financial wrongdoings at a PetroVietnam subsidiary, on his transfer to the trade ministry, according to the post on the government website.
Nguyen Quoc Khanh, former chief of the group's Party unit, was involved in legal violations in assigning EPC contracts for several thermal power and bio-energy projects.