Runaway bigwig's second trial suspended pending verification in Vietnam

By Ha Nguyen   January 28, 2018 | 12:16 am PT
Runaway bigwig's second trial suspended pending verification in Vietnam
Trinh Xuan Thanh (R) and Dinh Manh Thang stand trial in Hanoi for embezzlement at PetroVietnam's real estate project. Photo by Vietnam News Agency
Prosecutors have asked for more time to look into one of the companies Trinh Xuan Thanh was involved with.

A Hanoi court suspended a $2 million embezzlement trial involving a notorious runaway oil executive on Sunday to verify information regarding one of the companies involved in the case.

Trinh Xuan Thanh, former board chairman and general director of PetroVietnam Construction JSC (PVC), is on trial for embezzlement at PVP Land, a real estate project controlled by his firm, but has already been sentenced to life for a similar crime at PVC.

Prosecutors called for the hearing to be suspended on the fifth day of the trial to clarify the civil liability of Vietsan, a subsidiary of PVP Land that played a key role in the alleged fraud.

According to the indictment, Thanh and other executives at Vietsan falsely devalued the value of PVP Land to embezzle VND49 billion (more than $2 million) in 2010.

Prosecutors claim Thanh alone pocketed VND14 billion ($616,500), but returned the money after the case was exposed.

The trial was opened on January 24 and is scheduled to last two weeks. Thanh is in the dock with six lawyers and seven co-defendants, including Dinh Manh Thang, a former energy executive and younger brother of Dinh La Thang, a former Politburo member who was sentenced to 13 years for mismanagement as board chairman of PetroVietnam last week.

Embezzlement is punishable by death in Vietnam, but the revised Penal Code effective from the start of this year allows convicts to escape capital punishment by returning at least 75 percent of stolen assets.

Thanh, 51, was board chairman at PetroVietnam’s construction firm from 2009 to 2013, before holding several government positions including deputy chief of staff at the Ministry of Industry and Trade and deputy chairman of the southern province of Hau Giang.

He caught media attention in June 2016 for driving a $230,000 Lexus with a government license plate in a country where the average annual income was around $2,200. The scandal caused uproar over the use of public money, prompting Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong to order a probe into his political career.

But by that time, Thanh had already fled to Germany. Police said he returned to Hanoi and turned himself in last year.

An investigation found him accountable for losses of around VND3.2 trillion ($147 million) in total at PVC.

On January 22, he was sentenced to life for causing losses of more than VND119 billion ($5.24 million) and embezzling VND4 billion ($176,000) from power plants controlled by his firm.

The PetroVietnam trials have been taking place at the same time as a separate trial in Ho Chi Minh City where a $266 million fraud case involving Vietnam’s Construction Bank is being heard.

Nguyen Phu Trong, the 73-year-old Communist Party leader, has been leading the sweeping corruption crackdown, which he recently described as at an “all-time high”.

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