Former energy exec appeals death penalty after massive graft trial in Vietnam

By Staff reporters   October 6, 2017 | 01:25 am PT
Former energy exec appeals death penalty after massive graft trial in Vietnam
Former PetroVietnam (PVN) chairman Nguyen Xuan Son (C) is escorted by police in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du
He claims he is innocent of embezzlement and has asked the court to commute his sentence.

A former chairman of state fuel giant PetroVietnam has appealed against the death penalty he received last week from a court in Hanoi for his role in the infamous multi-million-dollar graft case at OceanBank.

On September 29, the court sentenced Nguyen Xuan Son, chairman of the board at the oil and gas group from 2014 until his arrest in 2015, to death for appropriating VND246 billion ($13.6 million) from OceanBank.

PetroVietnam had acquired a 20 percent stake in OceanBank during that time, meaning Son had stolen VND49 billion in government money, prosecutors said. The 55-year-old was found guilty of embezzlement, abuse of power and deliberately violating state regulations on economic management.

The court on Friday said it had received Son's appeal, in which he claimed he was innocent of embezzlement and charges of abusing his power to steal money, local media reported.

He admitted in the appeal that he had broken lending regulations at credit institutions and accepted the charge of deliberately violating state regulations on economic management.

But he said he would like the court to reconsider the case and reduce his sentence.

After the sentence was announced last Friday, Son called it "an unjust verdict”, and Reuters quoted his lawyer as saying that he would appeal.

Judges at the one-month trial also sentenced Ha Van Tham, former chairman of the board at OceanBank, to life in jail on charges of embezzlement, deliberately violating state regulations on economic management and breaking regulations on lending activities at credit institutions.

Tham is accused of offering deposit rates above those set by the central bank to various customers including PetroVietnam between 2010 and 2014, causing losses of nearly VND1.6 trillion ($70.4 million).

Other bankers received up to 22 years in jail.

OceanBank was founded in 1993 with a 20 percent stake from Ocean Group, which also invests in hospitality, securities, media and retail. It was taken over by the central bank in April 2015 after the scandal broke out.

The high-profile trial, with 51 bankers and businessmen in the dock, could go down as the biggest fraud trial in Vietnam’s history.

The Ministry of Public Security has launched a separate investigation into who else benefited from the illegal money.

According to the indictment, more than 50,000 individuals and nearly 400 organizations and businesses received preferential deposit interest payments from the bank, including many state-owned units besides PetroVietnam. But only 19 businesses have admitted to having received a combined VND3 billion, while 124 have denied taking any money and the rest have remained silent.

At least three PetroVietnam units were put under investigation last month for colluding with OceanBank execs to appropriate $5.2 million.

PetroVietnam and the banking sector are at the center of Vietnam’s sweeping corruption crackdown that has ensnared scores of high-ranking officials, including Dinh La Thang, a former member of the Communist Party’s decision-making Politburo who headed PetroVietnam from 2005 to 2011.

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