Vietnam presses ahead with trial of fugitive oil executive

By Staff reporters   November 25, 2017 | 05:37 pm GMT+7
Vietnam presses ahead with trial of fugitive oil executive
Trinh Xuan Thanh appearing on state television in August to confirm he had turned himself in. Photo by Reuters/Kham
That will be the latest high-profile trial, scheduled for February 2018 at the latest, to take place as Vietnam's corruption crackdown widens.

Vietnam is all set to try a runaway oil executive whose surrender has rocked the country's political dynamic since August, the latest high-profile trial to take place as Vietnam's sweeping corruption crackdown forges ahead.

At a meeting on Saturday, the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption, chaired by Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, urged investigators and prosecutors to ensure the trial of Trinh Xuan Thanh, accused of financial wrongdoings and embezzlement at a subsidiary of state energy giant PetroVietnam, takes place this year or at the latest February 2018.

In early August, Thanh “turned himself in” after a 10-month international manhunt. A former vice trade minister was fired later that month for “illegally” appointing Thanh.

Thanh, 51, is facing charges of embezzlement and deliberately violating state regulations on economic management, violations which caused losses of around VND3.2 trillion ($147 million) at PetroVietnam Construction JSC (PVC) when he was its general director and board chairman between 2007 and 2013.

When Thanh fled the country last year, Party chief Trong repeatedly reassured the public that the long arm of the law would finally catch up with him. Trong reiterated in April that Vietnam would arrest Thanh “by any means".

The investigation into Thanh’s wrongdoings has ensnared scores of government officials and corporate executives. Chief among them was Dinh La Thang, who was removed from the Communist Party's elite Politburo, the group at the pinnacle of Vietnamese power, in May. He was later fired from his position as the top leader of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s biggest city and commercial hub. 

Thang was held responsible for “serious” violations and mismanagement during his time as PetroVietnam's chairman from 2009 to 2011. His punishment was extremely rare and the heaviest handed down to a Politburo member in years, if not decades, allowing Trong to emphasize that no official is immune from the drive to stamp out corruption.

Trinh Xuan Thanh caught media attention in June 2016 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, Thanh had already fled to Europe. The Ministry of Public Security issued an international arrest warrant for him in September 2016. Police said he "turned himself in" last July, without elaborating on how he did so.

PetroVietnam and the banking sector have been at the center of Vietnam's widening anti-graft move.

In late September, a Hanoi court sentenced Nguyen Xuan Son, former chairman of PetroVietnam, to death and Ha Van Tham, his counterpart at OceanBank, to life imprisonment for their roles in a multi-million-dollar graft case that riveted the nation.

Tham was accused of offering deposit rates above those set by the central bank to various customers including PetroVietnam between 2010 and 2014, causing losses of nearly VND1.6 trillion ($70.4 million). The court said Son had appropriated VND246 billion ($13.6 million) of the money.

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