Vietnam's fallen political star faces second 20-year jail term for role in banking graft case

By Bao Ha   December 28, 2017 | 08:02 am PT
Vietnam's fallen political star faces second 20-year jail term for role in banking graft case
People pass a branch of OceanBank at the PetroVietnam's building in Hanoi. Photo by Reuters/Kham
Dinh La Thang is facing up to 30 years in prison for the two charges brought against him so far.

Vietnam's top prosecutors on Wednesday ratified charges against the once-rising political star Dinh La Thang and six other former oil officials for their roles in the infamous multi-million-dollar graft case at OceanBank.

Thang, who served as board chairman of the state-owned oil giant PetroVietnam (PVN) from 2006 until 2011, may receive 10-20 years in jail if found guilty of "deliberately violating state regulations on economic management, causing serious consequences.”

The remaining six suspects, including OceanBank's former deputy general director Nguyen Xuan Son, as well as PVN's former deputy general director Ninh Van Quynh, also face similar charges and punishments.

Additionally, Quynh has been charged with abuse of power and embezzlement, for which he faces up to life imprisonment.

According to investigators, despite OceanBank’s “small and inefficient” operations back in 2008, Thang plowed ahead with a 20 percent stake purchase without appraising it or reporting the venture to the then prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung. This led to PetroVietnam holding a VND800 billion ($35 million) stake in the lender, but that was completely written off when the central bank took over it in 2015.

Meanwhile the other six suspects are prosecuted for agreeing with Thang's decision. Quynh has also been accused of abuse of power and embezzlement for receiving VND20 billion from Son in order to influence PVN's decisions in favor of OceanBank.

Son was already sentenced to death for his role in the OceanBank graft case in a different trial in September. At the time, the defense lawyer for Son, who was PVN’s chairman from 2014 until his arrest in 2015, said his client had just been enforcing executive orders already sanctioned by Thang when the latter was at the helm of the state energy giant.

The trial for the seven officials is currently scheduled for late January, once another trial for violations at PVN's subsidiary PetroVietnam Construction (PVC) concludes.

Thang, 57, is also charged with violating state regulations on economic management and faces 10-20 years in prison for his role in the PVC case. If found guilty in both cases, he may receive up to 30 years in jail, the longest prison term allowed under Vietnam's Penal Code.

After leaving PetroVietnam in 2011, Thang's political career took off as Minister of Transport in Prime Minister Dung’s cabinet.

His political career was all but doomed in May, when he was voted out of the then 19-member Politburo, the Party’s decision-making body, and later fired as the top leader of Ho Chi Minh City. He was later appointed as deputy head of the Central Economic Commission, which advises the Party on economic policies.

Thang's charges for his roles in the two cases came shortly after his arrest on December 8 that riveted the nation. Thang’s younger brother Dinh Manh Thang, another oil executive, was arrested the next day as part of the corruption crackdown.

Vietnam’s energy and banking sectors have been the center of the sweeping corruption crackdown spearheaded by Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong. Scores of people have been ensnared.

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