Vietnam seeks to purge ‘corrupt’ Communist leaders


Ex-politburo member Dinh La Thang among 22 officials on trial for economic crimes


John Reed


Vietnam will on Monday begin the trial of 22 former top officials including Dinh La Thang, a former member of its ruling Communist party’s politburo, as part of a sweeping and politically charged crackdown on alleged corruption in energy and banking.

Mr Dinh, who is 57, will appear in court on Monday on charges of economic mismanagement in connection with his former role as chairman of PetroVietnam, the country’s largest state-owned company by revenue.

The former ruling party official was arrested on December 8 after Vietnam’s national assembly stripped him of his lawmaker status and immunity from prosecution, and he will be the highest-ranking state official to face criminal charges in decades. Formerly a rising political star, Mr Dinh was also sacked as the top Communist party leader in Ho Chi Minh City.

His brother Dinh Manh Thang was arrested the following day.Vietnamese officials are investigating alleged fraud involving PetroVietnam and Ocean Bank, a major private bank in which the oil and gas group bought a stake during an acquisition spree by state-owned Vietnamese groups. The stake was later written off in 2015 when the central bank took over the bank to prevent its collapse.

According to Vietnamese state-controlled media, Mr Dinh is accused of investing 800bn Vietnamese dong ($35m) of PetroVietnam’s money in Ocean Bank without having appraised the deal properly and will face charges of “deliberate violation of state regulations on economic management, causing serious consequences”. The charges could bring the former official up to 20 years in jail.

Among the other officials standing trial is Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former head of PetroVietnam’s construction arm. Germany accuses Vietnam of abducting him and spiriting him out of the country in a case that caused a diplomatic furore.

Mr Trinh, who had been seeking asylum in Germany, turned himself into police in Hanoi last August after an international manhunt. He said he had returned to Vietnam voluntarily, but eyewitnesses reported seeing him being bundled into a car in Berlin’s Tiergarten park, and Germany’s government said that he was kidnapped with the involvement of Vietnam’s embassy in Berlin. Germany expelled Vietnam’s intelligence agency station chief in Berlin in response.

Neither Mr Dinh nor the other officials facing trial could be immediately reached by the Financial Times for comment.

Vietnam’s Communist leadership, under general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, has been cracking down on the corruption that has allowed some officials to amass large-scale personal wealth and fomented resentment among many ordinary Vietnamese. PetroVietnam has been the main target of their anti-graft efforts. Nguyen Xuan Son, a former Ocean Bank chief executive and ex-chairman of PetroVietnam, was sentenced to death in September after being found guilty of corruption.

Observers in Vietnam have linked the anti-graft crackdown to a struggle for power and legitimacy in the Communist-ruled nation, but some said that the crackdown could rattle companies doing business there.“This will worry investors,” said Nguyen Phuong Linh, a Singapore-based analyst with Control Risks, the consultancy. “Vietnam used to be the most politically stable country in south-east Asia, but this could create a higher perception of risk.”