Vietnam’s runaway bigwig stands second trial for embezzlement

By Bao Ha   January 23, 2018 | 07:21 pm PT
The hearing comes just two days after Trinh Xuan Thanh was sentenced to life for causing million-dollar losses at PetroVietnam.

[Video by Xuan Quang]

Vietnam’s notorious runaway oil executive was back in court again on Wednesday morning facing more embezzlement charges after being handed down a life sentence on Monday for a similar crime at PetroVietnam's subsidiary.

Trinh Xuan Thanh, former board chairman and general director of PetroVietnam Construction JSC (PVC), is on trial with seven others for embezzling VND49 billion (more than $2 million) in 2010 from a stake sale at PVP Land, a real estate project controlled by his firm.

Prosecutors said Thanh alone pocketed VND14 billion ($616,500), but returned the money after the case was exposed.

The trial is scheduled to last two weeks until February 6, and Thanh will have six lawyers.

Embezzling property is punishable by death in Vietnam, but the revised Penal Code effective from the start of this year allows convicts to escape capital punishment by returning at least 75 percent of the stolen money.

Thanh, 51, was board chairman at PetroVietnam’s construction firm from 2009 to 2013, before holding several government positions including deputy chief of staff at the Ministry of Industry and Trade and deputy chairman of the southern province of Hau Giang.

He 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 was around $2,200. The scandal caused uproar over the use of public money, prompting Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong to order a probe into his political career.

But by that time, Thanh had already fled to Germany. Police said he returned to Hanoi and turned himself in last year.

An investigation found him accountable for losses of around VND3.2 trillion ($147 million) in total at PVC.

On Monday, he was sentenced to life for causing losses of more than VND119 billion ($5.24 million) and embezzling VND4 billion ($176,000) from power plants controlled by his firm.

At that same trial, Dinh La Thang, a former Politburo member, was sentenced to 13 years in jail for mismanagement as board chairman of PetroVietnam.

Thang is also set to stand trial again later this month for losses incurred from a PetroVietnam investment in OceanBank, for which he is facing up to 20 years in prison.

Thang’s younger brother, Dinh Manh Thang, a former energy executive, is among the defendants at Thanh's trial.

The PetroVietnam trials have been taking place at the same time as a separate trial in Ho Chi Minh City where a $266 million fraud case involving Vietnam’s Construction Bank is being heard.

Nguyen Phu Trong, the 73-year-old Communist Party leader, has been leading the sweeping corruption crackdown, which he recently described as at an “all-time high”.

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