Vietnam aroused by Party leader's probe into official's luxury car

By Vo Van Thanh, Thanh Lan   June 13, 2016 | 08:45 pm PT
Vietnam aroused by Party leader's probe into official's luxury car
Trinh Xuan Thanh (right) at his inauguration ceremony to become Vice Chairman of Hau Giang People's Committee. Photo by Hau Giang Newspaper
Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong's decision to order an investigation into a provincial leader's alleged abuse of an official plate on his luxury car on June 10 has sparked public interest.

A story broke on June 1 as public outrage rose in Hau Giang Province after Trinh Xuan Thanh, vice chairman of Hau Giang Province People’s Committee, was spotted driving a VND5 billion Lexus 570 bearing a blue license plate.

In Vietnam, blue plates are only granted to cars used by government officials, and the Lexus 570 that Thanh was driving far exceeds the limit of VND920 million set for vehicles allocated to provincial officials.

While the initial criticism centered mostly around the car's price tag, the decision to investigate Thanh's case by Trong has raised questions about whether there is more to the matter than meets the eye.

As the investigation continues, speculation has been on the rise while the media delves into Thanh's past, hoping to find a motive behind the party chief's decision.

Prior to being assigned to his position in Hau Giang, Trinh Xuan Thanh was the chairman of PetroVietnam Corporation (PVC) from 2007 to 2013. In 2012, the company reported surprise losses of VND293 billion ($14 million). Despite the speculations surrounding Thanh’s responsibility for the losses at PVC, he continued to move up to more powerful positions.

Thanh left the oil and gas industry in 2013 and was appointed to important posts over the next three years, including a position at the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) and head of the Party Committee Office of the MOIT. In 2016, Thanh was elected to his current post. 

“It’s not simply just a reassignment,” said Nguyen Dinh Huong, former deputy chief of the Central Organizing Committee – a state body that manages the assignment of central government personnel.

According to Huong, only officials who are considered key to the central authority’s personnel agenda can move from the ministerial sector to become a provincial leader, which often ensures their chances of moving up Vietnam’s political ladder.

On June 9, the National Election Council announced that Trinh Xuan Thanh had been elected to the National Assembly.

For the time being, questions around Thanh’s rise to power remain unanswered. However, some officials and lawyers have already voiced their opinions about his alleged misuse of the blue plate car by citing legal regulations that say he is not eligible for one.

Thanh previously made clear that he did not own the car but had borrowed it from a friend in Hanoi when he was transferred to Hau Giang. He also said the car originally bore a white plate with a Hanoi registration number 29A-79093.

“The blue plate was licensed by the local police after having been approved by provincial leaders of Hau Giang to help me do the job,” he said. “I am willing to return the plate if it upsets the public.”

Thanh added he would not ask for another public car as a replacement because Hau Giang is still a poor province.

Yesterday the provincial People’s Committee admitted they had been wrong to issue the plate to Thanh.

This is not the first time this month public service vehicles have been in the spotlight in the Mekong Delta. On June 6, local police in Soc Trang also made the headlines for using money from traffic fines to buy four luxury Lexus 570s.

Related news:

> "Borrowed" luxury car lands Vietnamese government official in hot water

> Public outrage after police spend traffic fines on luxury cars

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