Former oil honcho implicates ex-PM in massive Vietnam graft case

By Bao Ha   March 19, 2018 | 02:49 am PT
Former oil honcho implicates ex-PM in massive Vietnam graft case
Dinh La Thang, former board chairman of PetroVietnam, stands trial in Hanoi on Monday. Photo by Vietnam News Agency
Dinh La Thang was chairman of PetroVietnam before his career took off as transport minister under PM Nguyen Tan Dung.

The former chief of PetroVietnam has claimed that Vietnam's then prime minister backed an investment that resulted in $35 million in losses at the state-owned oil giant.

Dinh La Thang, former board chairman of the oil giant and a once rising political star, was defending himself in a Hanoi court on Monday facing charges of “deliberately violating state regulations on economic management, causing serious consequences,” which carries a sentence of between 10-20 years in jail.

The indictment said Thang independently plowed ahead with a 20 percent stake purchase in OceanBank in 2008 without discussing it with other board members or seeking approval from the then prime minister. He was aware of the bank’s “poor capacity,” it added. The stake, worth VND800 billion ($35 million), was completely written off when the central bank took over it in 2015.

But Thang claimed that he was following the rules.

He said at the time, there were no regulations requiring him to consult board members, but he had nonetheless discussed the plan with other PetroVietnam executives for months and earned their support.

He also said “the purchase was approved by the prime minister.”

Thang said that after 10 years, he could not recall all the details, but “I remember having received direction”.

Thang is in the dock with six other former PetroVietnam executives, including Nguyen Xuan Son.

Son told the court that the investment decision was made because OceanBank was running a profitable business.

PetroVietnam’s investment in OceanBank happened during the time Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was in office. Dung, 68, held the position between 2006 and 2016, and was succeeded by his deputy Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Thang, 57, served as board chairman of PetroVietnam between 2006 and 2011, before his career took off as Minister of Transport in Dung’s cabinet and then Party leader of Ho Chi Minh City.

The trial, which is expected to last 10 days, is Thang’s second this year. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail in January also 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 for the past couple years.

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

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