Fallen Vietnamese oil exec given 18-year sentence in $35 million graft case

By Bao Ha   March 29, 2018 | 01:45 am PT
Fallen Vietnamese oil exec given 18-year sentence in $35 million graft case
Dinh La Thang, former chief of PetroVietnam, stands at a trial in Hanoi for causing multi-million dollar losses to the oil giant. Photo by Vietnam News Agency
Dinh La Thang has already been sentenced to 13 years behind bars for a separate corruption case.

The former head of PetroVietnam was sentenced to 18 years in jail in Hanoi on Thursday for his role in a banking investment that caused huge losses at the state oil giant.

Dinh La Thang, former board chairman of PetroVietnam and a once rising political star, was 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. Prosecutors last week called for him to be jailed for 18-19 years.

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.

During the 10-day trial, he dismissed all the allegations.

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 for 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.

But his entire argument was rejected.

The verdict said Thang only reported the stake purchase to the government after the deal had been done in an effort to “legitimize” it.

Ocean Bank’s profit reports at the time were also false because the central bank found it was actually suffering losses, the court said.

If PetroVietnam had planned to divest, Ocean Bank would not have been able to afford to return the money.

“Even if PetroVietnam had divested successfully, the damage would have fallen on another company,” the court said.

Thang was ordered to return 75 percent of the lost investment, and his six co-defendants, all former executives at Petro Vietnam, will have to pay the rest.

They were sentenced to between 15 months house arrest and seven years in jail.

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 trial that wrapped up on Thursday 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. Under Vietnam’s Penal Code, a person who receives multiple sentences can 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, 73, who took office in 2011, has described the campaign as being at an “all time high.”

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