Vietnam hunts former bigwig as probe into mismanagement at PetroVietnam unit underway

By VnExpress   September 16, 2016 | 12:43 pm PT
Vietnam hunts former bigwig as probe into mismanagement at PetroVietnam unit underway
Trinh Xuan Thanh, the former chairman of PetroVietnam Construction JSC, in a file photo. The Ministry of Public Security has issued an international wanted notice for him.
The police are tracking down a former PetroVietnam official.

Vietnamese police are tracking down a former executive charged with financial malfeasance at a unit of the state-run oil and gas giant PetroVietnam following the arrest of four other senior executives.

The Ministry of Public Security said in a statement late Friday that they have issued an international wanted notice for Trinh Xuan Thanh, the former board chairman of PetroVietnam Construction JSC (PVC), after charging him with letting the company incur losses of around VND3.2 trillion ($147 million) under his watch between 2011 and 2013.

On Friday, the police arrested Vu Duc Thuan, PVC’s former general director, his two deputies and chief accountant. All these officials are being probed for "violating economic management regulations causing serious consequences”, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

Thanh sought overseas sick leave in mid-August and has never returned since, the police said. He was expelled from the Communist Party last week, a move that would pave the way for him to face any criminal charges.

PVC piled up huge losses of VND3.2 trillion, or more than $147 million, between 2011 and 2013, when Thanh, 50, was its chairman.

Government inspectors found that Thanh and his team starting in 2009 had launched many offshoot companies and partnered with many companies, but few of the ventures proved effective. Most of their business projects during the period ended up being delayed or even canceled.

PVC was assigned as the main contractor for major PetroVietnam projects, but then either assigned the contracts to member units or transferred them to private companies. This showed "a lack of responsibility and loose management," according to the inspectors.

Despite his track record, Thanh continued to be kicked upstairs, holding various government positions before taking his latest post as vice mayor of the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang.

He caught media attention in June for driving a $230,000 Lexus with a government license plate. The matter caused public uproar over the waste of public money, prompting Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong to order a probe into his promotion process.

“I think the real question is why he kept on getting promoted when there were all sorts of red flags, including large losses under his watch,” said Zachary Abuza, a Washington-based Southeast Asia analyst.

Last year, the then PetroVietnam chairman, Nguyen Xuan Son, was also arrested for abuse of power and “violating economic management regulations”.

Vietnam’s top echelons have exhibited determination to rein in the corruption-prone, bloated state sector in the wake of the collapse of state shipping giant Vinashin in 2008. But little headway has been made.

In 2014, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, an international standard gauge of government malfeasance, ranked Vietnam 119 out of 175 countries and territories; the country was ranked 116 in 2013 and 123 a year earlier. Its position has barely budged, moving to just 112 in 2015.

It is in this context that the latest crackdown “probably speaks of just how glaringly bad the situation was,” Abuza said.

Illustrated by VnExpress/Tien Thanh

Illustrated by VnExpress/Tien Thanh

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