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Vietnam tries former oil execs in widened graft crackdown

Vietnam News Agency/AP

Former PetroVietnam Chairman Trinh Xuan Thanh, center, appears in court in Hanoi on Monday.

The Associated PressHANOI (AP) — Vietnam opened a major corruption trial Monday against defendants who include a former senior Communist official and a former oil executive the Vietnamese government is accused of snatching from Germany.

Former Politburo member Dinh La Thang, 57, also was formerly the chairman of state energy giant PetroVietnam and is accused of “deliberately violating state economic management regulations, causing serious consequences” for his role in awarding PetroVietnam’s Construction Joint Stock Company, or PVC, a contract to build a thermoelectric plant without a proper bidding process.

He allegedly also advanced $67 million to PVC, which did not use the funds for the right purpose, causing losses of $5.5 million to the state.

Thang, the first former Poltiburo member to face prosecution in decades, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Trinh Xuan Thanh, 51, a former chairman of PVC, is accused of the same charge as well as embezzling $186,000 from another thermoelectric plant. The embezzlement offense carries the death penalty.

In August, Germany accused the Vietnamese intelligence service of kidnapping Thanh from a Berlin park. Vietnam denied that, saying Thanh turned himself in to police voluntarily, but the incident strained bilateral ties and Germany expelled two Vietnamese diplomats.

The trial Monday involves the two men and 20 other defendants who are mostly current or former senior oil executives, including three other former chairmen of PetroVietnam.

PetroVietnam and the banking sector have been at the center of an unprecedented crackdown on corruption under the watch of the Communist Party’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, who was reelected to another five-year term in early 2016 at the party congress.

The trial of Thang and Thanh “sends out a stern warning that there will be no ‘no-go zones’ in this campaign, and corrupt officials, no matter who they are and what position they hold, will be brought to justice,” said Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS — Yusof Ishak Institute.

“The campaign has some aspects of political infighting, but the main driver is still the Party’s wish to stem widespread corruption, which has undermined the people’s confidence in the Party’s governance capabilities as well as its economic reform efforts,” Hiep said.

He said political power had previously been fragmented and the fight against corruption inefficient, but Vietnam’s political power structure was now concentrated in favor of the general secretary position. The corruption crackdown was intensifying now because Trong and his allies were able to consolidate power after the party congress, Hiep said.

Once a rising political star, Thang was dismissed from the all-powerful Politburo in May and was subsequently fired as secretary of the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. He was arrested on Dec. 8 while his brother Dinh Manh Thang was detained one day later for alleged embezzlement in another corruption case.Speech

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