A former Vietnamese official allegedly kidnapped from Germany will go on trial in Hanoi in January on corruption charges, officials said Wednesday, a high-profile case that could see the ex-oil executive put to death.
Vietnam’s communist government has jailed or arrested scores of former officials, bankers and state executives this year as part of a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown that some observers say is driven by political infighting.
But Trinh Xuan Thanh’s brazen Cold War-style kidnapping from a Berlin park by Vietnamese security agents in July stunned many inside and outside the one-party state, sparking a diplomatic dust-up that Germany called a “scandalous violation” of its sovereignty.
Hanoi had sought Thanh, the former head of state-run PetroVietnam Construction (PVC), for mismanagement and embezzlement causing massive losses.
Vietnamese officials said he returned home voluntarily to face the charges.
But German authorities said he was kidnapped on their soil, where he had sought asylum.
Thanh will face trial on January 8, alongside the former head of PetroVietnam and ex-politburo member Dinh La Thang, a court clerk told AFP.
As head of PetroVietnam, Thang allegedly carved out a deal with Thanh — then chairman of the construction subsidiary of PetroVietnam — to build a thermal power plant.
The deal allegedly caused losses of $5.2 million for the state.
Twenty others also face charges in the case.
Officials said the defendants “were mostly key leaders in important economic organisations, trusted by the state and the people to manage state capital”, according to the indictment cited by the official Vietnam News Agency.
Thang and Thanh face 20 years in jail for mismanagement, while the former PVC head Thanh faces an additional charge of embezzlement, which carries the death penalty.
Officials had earlier accused Thanh of causing losses worth $150 million, which he could still face in a separate trial.
Thanh appears to have been a marked man ever since he was spotted driving a flashy Lexus car with government plates while serving as deputy head of southern Hau Giang province.
The men are the most prominent officials to face corruption charges as part of Hanoi’s massive crackdown that has already seen one senior banker sentenced to death and scores of others face stiff jail terms.
Observers say the anti-corruption sweep, which echoes a graft crackdown in Communist China, is being led by a conservative leadership in place since last year.
Many believe it is as much about cleaning up Vietnam’s corrupted ranks as it is about weeding out political enemies aligned with the former leadership.
Vietnam has been ranked 113 out of 176 on the corruption index by Transparency International, worse than its Southeast Asian neighbours Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar.