Disgraced Vietnamese oil exec tries to allay blame in major graft case

By Bao Ha   May 9, 2018 | 12:36 am PT
Disgraced Vietnamese oil exec tries to allay blame in major graft case
Dinh La Thang (L), former chairman of PetroVietnam, arrives at an appeal trial in Hanoi. Photo by Vietnam News Agency
‘I did everything right,’ said Dinh La Thang during his appeal against a 13-year jail term.

A former head of PetroVietnam, who was convicted for business decisions that caused million-dollar losses at the state giant, said at his appeal trial on Wednesday that he had received the nod from the then prime minister.

Dinh La Thang, a former political star and board chairman of PetroVietnam, is appealing the 13-year jail term he received in January for economic management violations.

The indictment said he violated regulations by assigning PetroVietnam Construction JSC (PVC) as the main contractor for several thermal power projects.

He directly appointed Trinh Xuan Thanh as general director of PVC in December 2007, before making various promotion, funding and recruitment decisions to boost Thanh’s power and facilitate the company’s operations, it said.

He was found guilty of being responsible for Thanh’s actions that caused losses worth more than VND119 billion ($5.24 million) at the Thai Binh 2 thermal power plant and embezzlement of VND4 billion ($176,000) at another.

Thanh said at the appeal trial in Hanoi that he did not break protocols.

He said the then prime minister had allowed him to handpick the contractor for the Thai Binh 2 project in 2006.

The project was of national importance and received special policies, he said.

Thang said he made the assignment based on reports of profitable operations at PVC between 2009 and 2011. He said he had believed in the company’s experience as it had been in charge of bigger projects.

“I did everything right,” he said.

Hanoi Superior People's Court opened a 10-day trial on Monday to hear appeals from Thang and 13 former PetroVietnam executives.

Trinh Xuan Thanh, who was sentenced to life in jail for his involvement in the case, also filed appeal but reportedly withdrew it five days before the trial. Thanh caught global headlines for fleeing to Germany amid the investigation in 2016, but Hanoi police said he came back and turned himself in last year.

Thang served as board chairman of PetroVietnam between 2006 and 2011, before his career took off as Minister of Transport in Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s cabinet and then Party leader of Ho Chi Minh City.

He was fired from the HCMC post in May last year and then dismissed from the then 19-member Politburo, the Communist Party’s decision-making body, making him the biggest causality in Vietnam’s sweeping corruption crackdown that has seen many big officials arrested.

Thang also received an 18-year sentence for economic management violations in a $35 million graft case in March. At the trial, he was accused of independently plowing ahead with a 20 percent stake purchase in Ocean Bank in 2008 although he was aware of its “poor capacity.” The stake, worth VND800 billion ($35 million), was completely written off when the central bank took it over in 2015.

He said that his investment decision had been approved by the then prime minister, but the court dismissed his argument, saying that he had only reported the stake purchase to the government after the deal had been done in an effort to “legitimize” it.

He was expelled from the Communist Party on Wednesday.

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