Runaway energy bigwig faces death as Vietnam ready to fry corruption big fish

By Viet Dung   December 26, 2017 | 01:58 am PT
PetroVietnam’s former board chairman Dinh La Thang may receive 20 years in jail for huge losses caused by his subordinate Trinh Xuan Thanh.

The energy executive who fled to Europe, Trinh Xuan Thanh, is facing the death penalty for million-dollar losses at state-owned PetroVietnam, while its former board chairman Dinh La Thang may receive 20 years in jail for his poor management, prosecutors said.

Vietnam’s top prosecution agency, the Supreme People’s Procuracy, on Tuesday verified charges on 22 people, most of them former executives at the fuel giant, for loss-making operations at PetroVietnam Construction Corporation (PVC).

Trinh Xuan Thanh, former board chairman and general director of PVC, is facing death for property embezzlement, and 20 years in jail for violating state regulations on economic management.

The 51-year-old is set to stand trial in Hanoi in January for causing losses of around VND3.2 trillion ($147 million) when he was leading the construction unit between 2007 and 2013.

Thanh caught media attention in June 2016, when he was a provincial deputy chairman, for driving a $230,000 Lexus with a government license plate in a country where the average annual income is around $2,200. The scandal caused uproar over the use of public money, prompting a probe into his political career and how he had been promoted.

But by that time, he had already fled to Europe. The Ministry of Public Security issued an international arrest warrant for him in September 2016. He appeared on national television in early August this year saying he had turned himself in; but police have never elaborated on how he returned to Vietnam.

Thanh’s fall has ensnared many officials responsible for his career rise.

The biggest casualty so far is Dinh La Thang, who was former board chairman of PetroVietnam between 2006 and 2011 before his political career took off as Minister of Transport in Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s cabinet.

Thang directly appointed Thanh as PVC’s general director in December 2007, before making various promotion, funding and recruitment decisions to boost Thanh’s power and facilitate the company’s operations, investigators said.

He was found responsible for Thanh's actions that led to losses worth more than VND119 billion ($5.24 million) at one thermal power plant and embezzlement of VND4 billion ($176,000) at another.

Thang is charged with “deliberately violating state regulations on economic management, causing serious consequences.”

Prosecutors said he faces 20 years in jail, the maximum penalty for the crime. The prosecution unit proposed that the court commute the punishment given his cooperation in the case and his past contributions as state official, but did not suggest a specific term.

Thang was arrested on December 8, after he was voted out of the then 19-member Politburo, the Party’s decision-making body, and fired as the top leader of Ho Chi Minh City in May.

The charges against Thang were approved unusually fast, a week after police completed their investigation, but lawyers said it is understandable given the case's gravity and attention it has attracted from both the government and the public. 

Vietnam’s energy and banking sectors have been at the center of a sweeping corruption crackdown spearheaded by Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong.

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