Fallen PetroVietnam chief appeals jail sentence in million-dollar graft case

By Viet Dung   April 16, 2018 | 07:51 pm PT
Fallen PetroVietnam chief appeals jail sentence in million-dollar graft case
Dinh La Thang stands in court in Hanoi in March 2018 for mismanagement violations during his time at PetroVietnam. Photo by Vietnam News Agency
Dinh La Thang claims he is not liable for the $26 million he has been asked to return as a result of losses.

The former head of oil giant PetroVietnam has filed an appeal against the 18-year sentence he received for mismanagement last month.

Dinh La Thang, a former rising political star, has asked the court to review the charge as well as his jail sentence.

At a ten-day trial that concluded on March 29 in Hanoi, Thang and six other former PetroVietnam officials were found guilty of illegally plowing ahead with a 20 percent stake purchase in Ocean Bank in 2008 despite being aware of its “poor capacity.” The stake, worth VND800 billion ($35 million), was then completely written off when the central bank took over OceanBank in 2015.

The court ruled that Thang and his accomplices were reponsible for the losses. Thang was ordered to return 75 percent of the lost investment, and the other six defendants were held accountable for the rest.

In his appeal letter, Thang claimed the court had failed to take into consideration that his decision to invest in OceanBank was only made due to the fact PetroVietnam's proposal to open its own bank had been turned down.

The court also failed to take into account that the reason behind PetroVietnam's loss was that the central bank had taken over OceanBank for zero dong, he argued.

Regarding the court order to return VND600 billion, Thang claimed that as he had left the oil giant in August 2011, he should not be held responsible for losses the group incurred after that date.

Five of Thang's six co-defendants have also filed appeals, asking for commuted sentences and for the order to return the losses to be overturned.

Thang, 58, 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.

The March trial was his second this year. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail in January for economic management violations which caused million-dollar losses at a construction subsidiary of PetroVietnam, a punishment he also appealed against, saying it was "too harsh." Under Vietnam’s Penal Code, a person who receives multiple sentences will serve a maximum of 30 years in jail.

Thang was arrested last December after being fired from his position in HCMC and voted out of the all-powerful Politburo, the Party’s decision-making body, in a move that international analysts have called “unprecedented.”

His fall from grace is the biggest casualty of Vietnam’s sweeping corruption crackdown spearheaded by Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong over the past couple of years.

Trong, 74, who took office in 2011, has described the campaign as being at an “all time high.”

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