Vinalines chairman Duong Tri Dung, who is under sentence of death, was giving incendiary testimony at the trial of his brother, a former policeman.

Dung, who briefly fled Vietnam as scandal engulfed his debt-ridden firm in May 2012, gave a "shocking" account of paying large sums to a senior Communist Party figure to try to avoid prosecution, according to the state-run Tuoi Tre news website.

His claims were widely reported in state media, along with denials from officials.

They come amid a series of prosecutions aimed at cooling public anger over graft and fears over the economic impact of corruption at state firms.

Dung made the allegations in a Hanoi court during the trial of his brother Duong Tu Trong, 52, a former senior police official in the northern port of Hai Phong, who was on Wednesday sentenced to 18 years in prison for aiding his escape.

Dung, who was last month sentenced to death for embezzlement, fled the country after the near-collapse of Vinalines under some $3 billion of debt but was apprehended in September 2012 in Cambodia.

He told the court that he was warned of his impending arrest by Deputy Minister of Public Security Pham Quy Ngo -- who is a member of the party's Central Committee, a top decision-making body.

Ngo allegedly told him to "hide for a while", Tuoi Tre said in an online report.

It said Dung then claimed to have paid $500,000 to Ngo and additional substantial bribes to other top officials at the Ministry of Public Security in a bid to avoid prosecution.

Ngo has denied the allegations, according to the VNExpress online newspaper, one of several state-controlled outlets to give the case wide coverage.

The Hanoi court ordered an investigation into Dung's claims, Tuoi Tre reported, which would be classified as "deliberate revealing of state secrets" -- punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Vietnam ranks as one of the world's most corrupt nations and graft is a top concern for many ordinary people.

Corruption, mismanagement and huge debts at state-run companies are seen as fuelling the country's economic woes.

The government has vowed to stamp out corruption and has embarked on a series of high-profile trials of top former public officials and businessmen and women.

Five other defendants were given sentences of between five and eight years for their role in assisting Dung's flight from Vietnam, reports said.

The Bangkok Post - January 9, 2014