Runaway oil exec sentenced to life as PetroVietnam corruption trial wraps up

By Bao Ha   January 21, 2018 | 08:34 pm PT
Runaway oil exec sentenced to life as PetroVietnam corruption trial wraps up
Trinh Xuan Thanh is escorted out of the Hanoi court after receiving life sentence for embezzling property at PetroVietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Trinh Xuan Thanh's former boss at the oil giant, Dinh La Thang, was given 13 years behind bars for mismanagement.

A notorious runaway oil executive and the former chairman of PetroVietnam were both handed jail sentences on Monday morning in Hanoi at the conclusion of an unprecedented trial that has drawn international attention.

Trinh Xuan Thanh, former board chairman and general director of PetroVietnam Construction Corporation, was sentenced to life imprisonment for his pivotal role in million-dollar losses incurred at power plants the firm was in charge of.

Thanh, 51, was convicted of embezzlement and deliberately acting against State regulations on economic management, causing serious consequences.

Thanh drew international attention by fleeing to Germany in 2016 after an investigation was opened into his wealth. Police in Hanoi claim he returned last year and handed himself in.

Dinh La Thang, a former political star and board chairman of PetroVietnam, was sentenced to 13 years in jail for economic management violations.

Before the trial, prosecutors said Thang could face up to 20 years in jail, the heaviest punishment for his crime, and Thanh could be sentenced to death. However, on the fourth day of the trial, prosecutors lowered their recommendations to a life sentence for Thanh and 14-15 years for his former boss.

The 20 other defendants received up to 22 years behind bars.

The court described the case as “especially serious”. It said on Monday the defendants had abused their positions while holding key roles at the state-owned giant regarding projects of national importance.

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

He has been found guilty of being 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.

A police office stands guard as Dinh La Thang is taken to the PetroVietnam trial in Hanoi. Photo by Vietnam News Agency

A police office stands guard as Dinh La Thang is led to the PetroVietnam trial in Hanoi. Photo by Vietnam News Agency

Thang’s trial came swiftly a month after he was arrested. He was fired from the HCMC post and dismissed from the Politburo, the Communist Party’s decision-making body, in May, a move that international analysts have called “unprecedented”.

The hearing was historic in scale and set a new milestone in Vietnam’s fight against corruption.

Carlyle A. Thayer, an Australia-based veteran Vietnam analyst, said that “Thang’s case illustrated the determination of Party leaders to go after not only corrupt officials but officials whose failure to exercise their authority enabled corruption networks to flourish.”

The PetroVietnam trial was 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. The second trial will go on for another two weeks.

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

After the PetroVietnam trial, Thang is set to stand another one later this month for his role in the OceanBank case, for which he is facing up to 20 years in prison.

Meanwhile, Thanh is facing the death sentence for embezzlement at PVPLand, a subsidiary of PVC.

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