Vietnam’s most wanted runaway bigwig 'turns himself in': police

By Staff reporters   July 31, 2017 | 06:48 pm GMT+7
Vietnam’s most wanted runaway bigwig 'turns himself in': police
Trinh Xuan Thanh in a file photo. The police said he turned himself in on Monday after a 10-month international manhunt.

It remains unclear where Trinh Xuan Thanh has been hiding out after Vietnam issued an international arrest warrant for him.

A high-profile Vietnamese official who has been on the run for almost a year has turned himself in to the police following accusations of him causing massive losses at a state-owned oil giant, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement on Monday.

It remains unclear where Trinh Xuan Thanh, the former chairman and CEO of PetroVietnam Construction JSC, a unit of state energy group PetroVietnam, has been hiding overseas since last year. The Ministry of Public Security issued an international arrest warrant for him in September 2016.

It is also not clear how Thanh returned to Vietnam. The Ministry of Public Security did not provide any further details; its minister To Lam told the local media on Sunday that he had no information of the case.

Thanh's surrender is the latest development in the ongoing crackdown on malfeasance at PetroVietnam, which has already seen a high-ranking official from the Communist Party's decision-making body ousted.

Government inspectors found that Thanh and his team, starting in 2009, had launched a number of ventures with different companies, but few had proven successful. Most of their business projects ended up being delayed or closed down.

Thanh, 51, is accused of mismanagement and causing losses of around VND3.2 trillion ($147 million) at PetroVietnam Construction JSC (PVC). He served as general director of the company from late 2007, and became chairman two years later.

After his stint at PVC, Thanh continued to climb the ladder with an apparently successful political track record, holding various government positions including deputy chief of staff at the Ministry of Industry and Trade before taking his last post as vice mayor in the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang.

The infamous official first caught media attention in June 2016 for driving a $230,000 Lexus with a government license plate in a country where the average annual income was around $2,200 last year. The scandal caused an uproar over the use of public money, prompting Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong to order a probe into his political career and how he had been promoted.

Thanh sought overseas sick leave in mid-August last year and vanished until now.

Vietnam officially took a tough stance on the case in September when it issued an international arrest warrant for him and expelled him from the Communist Party, a move that would pave the way for him to face criminal charges.

Party chief Trong reiterated in April that Vietnam would try to arrest Thanh “by any means”. “It’ll be impossible to hide,” he said.

The investigation into Thanh has caught many government officials and executives at the fuel giant in legal turmoil.

The investigation possibly reached its most high-profile turn last May when the Party fired Dinh La Thang from his position as the top leader of Ho Chi Minh City and removed him from the Politburo, the Party’s highest decision-making body.

Thang, 56, was punished for making bad business decisions when he was chairman at PetroVietnam between 2009 and 2011, during the time Thanh was the CEO of PetroVietnam Construction.

Six other PVC executives have been detained, and scores of officials have been disciplined.

Vice Minister of Industry and Trade Ho Thi Kim Thoa is also facing dismissal for her illegal appointment of Thanh, while former minister Vu Huy Hoang has already been rebuked.

Vietnam is still looking for Vu Dinh Duy, former CEO of PVTex, a joint venture between PVN and textile giant Vinatex which incurred losses of more than VND1.4 trillion ($61.6 million) from construction and investment violations.

After leaving PVTex in 2014, Duy also rose to various positions in government agencies before fleeing the country last October, a case which bears a striking resemblance to Thanh’s.

Police said there were around 1,100 wanted persons in hiding overseas as of September last year, and international arrest warrants have been issued for 300 of them.

Most of the suspects have fled to Cambodia, Laos, China and the U.S. using fake identities.