Embattled Vietnamese official seen in rare public photo after implication in massive graft case

By Staff reporters   September 18, 2017 | 10:36 pm PT
Embattled Vietnamese official seen in rare public photo after implication in massive graft case
Dinh La Thang (L) is seen in a rare photo on Tuesday donating money to the flood victims in central Vietnam. He's flanking Nguyen Van Binh, the head of the Central Economic Commission and the former central bank governor. Photo courtesy of the Central Economic Commission
Dinh La Thang's appearances in the media have been rare since he was ousted from the Politburo, but his name remains a major talking point.

The embattled official implicated in an ongoing massive graft trial in Hanoi has been captured in a rare public photo donating money to the victims of a typhoon that left a trail of destruction in central Vietnam last week.

Dinh La Thang, vice head of the Central Economic Commission, which advises the Communist Party on economic policies, was pictured flanking the commission’s head Nguyen Van Binh in an article posted on the organization's website on Tuesday.

The two men were seen donating money to the victims of Typhoon Doksuri, which has killed eight people and flooded hundreds of thousands of homes after making landfall in central provinces last Friday.

Since May, Thang's appearances in the media have been rare, but his name has remained a major talking point.

Thang was dismissed from the Communist Party's decision-making Politburo in May, and later fired from his position as the leader of Ho Chi Minh City. He was held responsible for “serious” violations and mismanagement at PetroVietnam from 2009 to 2011. 

Thang has since been demoted to the post of vice head of the Central Economic Commission. Nguyen Van Binh, the commission’s head, was the central bank's governor between 2011 and 2016. In early September, government inspectors issued a report highlighting violations that took place at the central bank between 2010 and 2015. 

Last week, at the high-profile OceanBank trial, the defense lawyer for Nguyen Xuan Son, who was PetroVietnam’s chairman from 2014 until his arrest in 2015, said his client had just been enforcing executive orders already sanctioned by Thang when the latter was the chairman of the state energy giant. Son is facing the death penalty on charges of embezzlement, abuse of power and economic mismanagement.

The proposed sentence came as the trial reached the halfway stage of its expected 20-day duration, opening a can of worms in one of Vietnam’s toughest corruption crackdowns with PetroVietnam and the banking sector at the center.

Son was the CEO of OceanBank between 2008 and 2010, during which time PetroVietnam became a major shareholder. The 55-year-old, who held various executive positions at PetroVietnam from 2003, is accused of pocketing around $11 million from the bank.

He is charged with abusing his power to railroad OceanBank into forking out illegal interest payments in pursuit of personal gains. According to prosecutors, more than 50,000 individuals and nearly 400 businesses and organizations have been identified as the beneficiaries of such interest payments from OceanBank worth $70.4 million.

But Son’s defense lawyer, Nguyen Minh Tam, dismissed these allegations last Thursday, saying the excessive rates were offered to attract customers to keep the business afloat. Other banks have also done the same to bail themselves out, Tam said.

The bottom line is, according to Tam, the buck stopped with Thang, the chairman of PetroVietnam between 2006 and 2011. Tam essentially argued that it was Thang that signed off on documents that authorized OceanBank to function as the de facto internal institution tasked with exclusively handling all financial transactions for PetroVietnam.

The Central Inspection Committee, the Party’s top watchdog, also blamed Thang for an excessive stake purchase in OceanBank. PetroVietnam held a VND800 billion ($35 million) stake in the bank, but that was completely written off when the central bank took it over in 2015.

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