German authorities believe Trinh Xuan Thanh was snatched in Berlin and gave the Vietnamese intelligence attache 48 hours on Wednesday to leave the country.

Thanh faces embezzlement charges, which carry the death penalty. He had sought asylum in Germany but his application had not been processed yet while Vietnamese authorities sought his extradition.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang told reporters that the comments were "very regrettable" and that Thanh turned himself in to police in Vietnam on July 31.

"Vietnam always attaches importance to and wishes to develop strategic relations with Germany," she said, without elaborating.

Thanh, 51, disappeared in July last year after he was initially accused of mismanagement at a subsidiary of national oil and gas giant PetroVietnam, resulting in losses of some $150 million. Vietnamese police issued an arrest warrant in September. In March, police opened an investigation into embezzlement over his alleged involvement in a property development project.

Thanh was chairman of PetroVietnam Construction Joint Stock Corporation until 2013, when he was appointed to several senior government positions, including vice chairman of Hau Giang province in the southern Mekong Delta.

He was elected to the National Assembly in May 2016, but was dismissed from the Communist-dominated legislature before its first session the following month. He was also stripped of his Communist Party membership.

Vietnam's ambassador to Germany was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday and was told that Germany demanded that Thanh be returned so that the asylum and extradition proceedings could be conducted properly.

The Associated Press - August 4, 2017


Germany accuses Vietnam of abducting asylum-Sseking executive

Trinh Xuan Thanh, a high-powered construction executive in Vietnam, fled the country last year amid accusations of economic mismanagement and ended up in Germany, where he applied for asylum. Officials in Berlin were scheduled to hear his case on July 24, but he didn’t show up.

Mr. Thanh, 51, became the subject of an unusual and mysterious diplomatic spat on Wednesday, when Germany publicly accused Vietnam of abducting Mr. Thanh and forcibly returning him to Vietnam.

On Thursday, Vietnamese officials offered a vague statement of regret, and in the evening, state-run television broadcast images of a haggard-looking Mr. Thanh.

“With encouragement from my family and friends, I came back to Vietnam and turned myself in to seek the forgiveness of the party, the government and the law,” Mr. Thanh said in the broadcast, referring to the ruling Communist Party.

It was not clear if his statement was sincere or coerced.

The two countries have growing trade ties but strong disagreements over Vietnam’s approach to human rights. Critics say that the case illustrates how Vietnam’s one-party government is apparently willing to pursue its domestic enemies overseas.

In Berlin on Wednesday, a spokesman for Germany’s Foreign Office, Martin Schäfer, told reporters that there was “no longer any serious doubt” that Vietnamese diplomats and intelligence agents had participated in what he said was Mr. Thanh’s kidnapping.

“We reserve the right to draw further consequences if necessary at a political, economic and development policy level,” Mr. Schaefer said.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that the representative of Vietnam’s intelligence agencies in Germany had been declared “persona non grata” and ordered to leave the country within 48 hours. The Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that Mr. Thanh had missed a July 24 asylum hearing.

Mr. Thanh’s lawyer, Victor Pfaff, told Reuters that he was abducted on July 23 outside a Sheraton Hotel in the Tiergarten district of Berlin and driven away in a car with Czech plates. Mr. Pfaff said that Mr. Thanh arrived in Germany in August 2016, after a four-day journey through Laos, Thailand and Turkey, and that his wife and two children were in Berlin while another son stayed in Vietnam.

Vietnamese officials offered a generic statement on Thursday that did little to clear up the mystery.

Le Thi Thu Hang, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said the statement by Germany’s Foreign Office was “very regrettable.” She added that Vietnam “always attaches great importance” to Vietnamese-German strategic relations.

It was unclear whether Ms. Hang was disputing Germany’s accusation, and Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to an email on Thursday that sought clarification. An English-language article in the state-run media on Thursday said that Vietnam had “expressed its discomfort” with the German statement.

Bilateral trade between Vietnam and Germany was $10.3 billion over the last year, and Germany is Vietnam’s principal trading partner in the European Union, Germany’s Foreign Office says on its website. It says $8 billion of that trade was in German exports to Vietnam, including machinery, motor vehicles, equipment and chemical products.

The two countries also have a cultural connection in part because some Vietnamese people lived and worked in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The German Embassy is a major sponsor of the arts in Vietnam, and the Foreign Office says that Vietnamese people who lived in Germany are a bridge to what it calls a “unique relationship in Asia.”

But among foreign governments in Vietnam, Berlin has long been among the most outspoken about Hanoi’s human rights record. Human rights officers from the German Embassy are in regular contact with Vietnamese political dissidents, and the embassy regularly posts about human rights issues on social media.

Rights activists have said for years that Vietnam imprisons many of its domestic critics under vague national security laws, and that Vietnamese plainclothes officers regularly intimidate and harass dissidents and their families.

Mr. Thanh’s case has received widespread attention on Vietnamese-language social media this week. Many were skeptical that he had returned voluntarily; others applauded the government for arresting Mr. Thanh, saying it was an important step in a long battle against corruption.

Mr. Thanh was dismissed from Vietnam’s National Assembly last year and accused of economic mismanagement that resulted in losses of about $147 million. He had been a senior official in the southern province of Hau Giang and the chairman of PetroVietnam Construction, a subsidiary of the state oil giant PetroVietnam.

He had been unpopular in Vietnam ever since local newspapers reported that he drove a luxury car and owned a large property.

“He could not buy them with the income of an S.O.E. official,” said Ngo Quy Nham, a senior lecturer in management at the Foreign Trade University in Hanoi, referring to state-owned enterprises.

Le Ngoc Son, a doctoral candidate in crisis communication management at Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany, said that while he did not care for Mr. Thanh, he worried about how he was apprehended.

The technique of the arrest is “something that needs to be discussed,” Mr. Son wrote on Facebook on Thursday evening. “Compliance with German and international law is a must for any civilized country.”

By Mike Ives - The New York Times - August 3, 2017