Top Vietnamese energy execs to stand 2-week trial in January

By Viet Dung   December 27, 2017 | 12:16 am PT
Fallen political star Dinh La Thang and runaway bigwig Trinh Xuan Thanh will be trialled alongside 20 former colleagues at PetroVietnam.

Vietnam has set the trial dates for a score of former energy executives over million-dollar losses at state-owned PetroVietnam.

The Hanoi People’s Court said it will hold the trial between January 8-21 against 22 former executives of the oil giant for embezzlement and economic mismanagement which caused huge losses at PetroVietnam Construction Corporation (PVC).

Of the most prominent defendants, Dinh La Thang, former board chairman of PetroVietnam and once a political star, is facing 20 years in jail, while the notorious runaway Trinh Xuan Thanh, PVC’s former board chairman and general director, faces death for property embezzlement, and 20 years in jail for violating state regulations on economic management, prosecutors said.

Thang will have four lawyers defending him at the trial, while Thanh will have seven, the court said.

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 taken down many officials responsible for his career rise.

The biggest casualty so far is Thang, who was 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, and then Party leader of Ho Chi Minh City.

Thang directly appointed Thanh as PVC’s general director in December 2007, before making many 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.

A file photo shows Dinh La Thang, former board chairman of PetroVietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Hoa

A file photo shows Dinh La Thang, former board chairman of PetroVietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Hoa

Thang was arrested on December 8 after he was voted out of the Politburo, the Party’s decision-making body, and fired as the top leader of HCMC in May.

The judicial actions taken against Thang were unusually fast, but lawyers said it was understandable given the case’s gravity and the 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.

At another high-profile trial that wrapped up after one month last September, the Hanoi court sentenced Nguyen Xuan Son, another PetroVietnam’s former board chairman, to death, and Ha Van Tham, his counterpart at OceanBank, to life in jail for embezzlement and mismanagement causing losses of nearly VND1.6 trillion ($70.4 million) at the bank. PetroVietnam held a 20 percent stake at the bank, which meant losses to the state budget.

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