Vietnam 'regrets' German kidnapping allegations after oil exec 'turns himself in'

By Staff reporters   August 3, 2017 | 01:18 am PT
Vietnam 'regrets' German kidnapping allegations after oil exec 'turns himself in'
Vietnamese foreign ministry's spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang gestures at a press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam August 3, 2017. Photo by Reuters
Hanoi says it 'respects and wants to develop a strategic relationship' with Berlin.

Vietnam has said it regretted to learn about accusations made by the German government that it “kidnapped” a former Vietnamese oil executive in Berlin to bring him home to face charges of financial malfeasance, adding further investigations are underway.

Le Thi Thu Hang, Vietnam's foreign ministry spokesperson, reiterated at a press briefing on Thursday that Trinh Xuan Thanh, who is accused of gross mismanagement at a subsidiary of national oil and gas giant PetroVietnam, had “turned himself in” to Vietnamese police on Monday after a 10-month international manhunt.

A terse statement on the Ministry of Public Security's website, the only official source of the case in Vietnam, did not reveal why and how Thanh had returned to Vietnam. Minister of Public Security To Lam previously told local media on Sunday that he had no information regarding the case.

"Vietnam respects and wants to develop a strategic relationship with Germany," Hang said at the briefing.

Germany's foreign ministry said Wednesday it was considering further action to an "unprecedented" breach of German and international law over what it called the abduction of Thanh.

The German foreign ministry spokesman said the Vietnamese ambassador had been summoned on Tuesday afternoon and that the official representative of the Vietnamese intelligence service had been ordered to leave, Reuters reported.

The ambassador had been told the German government demanded that Trinh Xuan Thanh be allowed to travel back to Germany immediately so his asylum application and a Vietnamese request for his extradition could be examined in full, the newswire said.

The kidnapping was an "extreme breach of trust" and "has the potential to negatively affect relations massively," the German foreign ministry spokesman said.


Trinh Xuan Thanh sitting on a park bench in Berlin (undated image). Photo by DPA/Handout via AFP

Thanh, 51, vanished in August last year on supposed sick leave after being held accountable for losses of around VND3.2 trillion ($147 million) at PetroVietnam Construction JSC (PVC). He served as general director of the company from late 2007, and became chairman two years later. Vietnam issued an international arrest warrant for him in September 2016.

Government inspectors found that Thanh and his team, starting in 2009, had launched a number of ventures with different companies, but few had proven successful. Most of their business projects ended up being delayed or closed down.

After his stint at PetroVietnam Construction JSC, Thanh climbed the political ladder with an apparently successful track record, holding various government positions including deputy chief of staff at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, before taking his last post as vice mayor in the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang.

The infamous official first caught media attention in June 2016 for driving a $230,000 Lexus with a government license plate in a country whose public officials are supposed to embrace austerity and where the average annual income was around $2,200 last year. The scandal caused an uproar over the use of public money, prompting Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong to order a probe into his political career.

Trong reiterated in April that Vietnam would try to arrest Thanh “by any means”.


The house of Vietnamese former oil executive Trinh Xuan Thanh is seen in Hanoi, Vietnam August 3, 2017. Photo by Reuters

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 leader of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s biggest city and commercial hub. Thang was held accountable for serious” violations and mismanagement during his tenure as PetroVietnam's board chairman from 2009 until 2011.

Thang's punishment was extremely rare and the heaviest handed down to a Politburo member in years, if not decades.

“The PetroVietnam affair is a major corruption scandal,” Carl Thayer, a veteran Australia-based expert, said.

“In Thanh’s case the government wanted to go after the ‘big fish’ and dispel any notion that he was given lenient treatment because he went overseas,” he said. “The credibility of the government’s anti-corruption drive was on the line.”

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