The executives, Giang Kim Dat and Tran Van Liem, were the former business manager and director-general of the troubled shipbuilder Vinashinlines.

The firm is a subsidiary of Vinashin, a shipping behemoth that nearly folded in 2010 under billions of dollars of debt in a scandal that rocked the communist country's political elite and sparked government vows to clean up graft in its sprawling state-run sector.

On Wednesday a Hanoi court deemed the pair guilty of pocketing 260 billion dong (US$11.3 million) in shipping deals made between 2006 and 2008, state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.

The firm's former accountant, Tran Van Khuong, was also given life imprisonment for assisting with the embezzlement, while Dat's father Giang Van Hien was handed 12 years in prison for money laundering.

"All the defendants are convicted of serious crimes, causing damage to the state with more than 260 billion dong, so they should face a strict punishment," the verdict said, according to Tuoi Tre newspaper.

Death sentences are common in authoritarian Vietnam but the government does not disclose the number of executions actually carried out.

Before it toppled under vast debts, Vinashin had expanded into areas from real estate to electricity and was seen as a model state-owned enterprise that would lead Vietnam's efforts to compete on a global stage.

But the company's near-bankruptcy as well as scandals at other firms sparked public anger over rampant official corruption and raised investor fears of wider problems in the vast state-run sector.

The government ordered all state-owned enterprises to divest from non-core investments after Vinashin's downfall, though many have still not complied.

Nine former executives linked to the firm were handed lengthy jail terms in 2012 and a string of high-profile graft prosecutions of wealthy businessmen and executives from other state-run firms have followed.

However analysts often view such cases as the result of political infighting rather than a genuine commitment to reform.

Agence France Presse - February 22, 2017