Fallen Vietnamese oil exec facing prospect of lengthy jail sentence

By Bao Ha   March 21, 2018 | 10:53 pm PT
Fallen Vietnamese oil exec facing prospect of lengthy jail sentence
Dinh La Thang, former chairman of PetroVietnam, stands at a court in Hanoi, Vietnam, March 19, 2018. Photo by Reuters
Former rising political star Dinh La Thang claims the government is responsible for losses amounting to $35 million.

Vietnamese prosecutors have called for the former head of PetroVietnam to be jailed for 18-19 years for his role in a banking investment that caused huge losses at the state oil giant.

The proposal was made on Thursday on the fourth day of Dinh La Thang's 10-day trial.

Former rising political star Thang had independently plowed ahead with a 20 percent stake purchase in Ocean Bank in 2008 although he was aware of its “poor capacity,” the indictment said. The stake, worth VND800 billion ($35 million), was completely written off when the central bank took it over in 2015.

He has been charged with “deliberately violating state regulations on economic management, causing serious consequences,” which carries a sentence of between 10-20 years behind bars under Vietnam’s Penal Code.

Six co-defendants who worked under Thang at the state-owned company face suggested jail terms of between two and a half years and 18 years.

Thang has dismissed the allegations laid against him.

He said his investment in Ocean Bank had followed regulations. It had been discussed with other PetroVietnam executives and “received approval from the prime minister”, he said in court.

At the time, the bank was making a profit, he said, backed by other defendants.

He also said that PetroVietnam had found a customer to divert the stake and was ready to transfer it in March 2011.

He said the resale had been approved by the government but the central bank had objected to it, before it took over Ocean Bank for zero dong.

“As a result the loss was not down to PetroVietnam,” he said.

His argument did not go down well in court, with prosecutors countering that he was “denying responsibility and concealing violations,” and that “he had not shown remorse.”

Thang, 57, 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 ongoing trial in Hanoi is Thang’s 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.

He 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, 73, who took office in 2011, has described the campaign as being at an “all time high.”

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