Vietnam's communist government has embarked on a snowballing anti-corruption sweep, which observers say is politically driven and mirrors a graft crackdown in neighbouring China.

Scores of former officials, bankers and state executives have been arrested or jailed -- including a senior banker who has been sentenced to death.

On Monday a court in Hanoi said it had started proceedings against Trinh Xuan Thanh, the former head of state-run PetroVietnam Construction (PVC), for alleged mismanagement and embezzlement.

Thanh appeared before the court together with ex-politbureau member Dinh La Thang and 20 other senior officials.

They are accused of causing $5.2 million of losses for the state during an investment by PetroVietnam in the construction of a thermal power plant.

German authorities say Thanh was kidnapped from a Berlin park in July, decrying the brazen Cold War-style snatch operation as a "scandalous violation" of its sovereignty.

Vietnam denies the kidnap and instead insists the fugitive Thanh had returned home voluntarily to face the charges.

"This is a very serious case, drawing wide public attention," said an online announcement by Hanoi's People's Court, adding the accused all held key positions at major state-owned institutions.

In a two-week trial, Thang and Thanh could face 20 years in jail for mismanagement.

In addition Thanh faces an embezzlement charge, which carries the death penalty.

The downfall of Thanh and the other men on trial has stunned a public used to not questioning the role of officialdom in an authoritarian country which routinely quashes dissent.

But the Vietnamese leadership is at pains to parade its anti-graft credentials, experts say, as well as take out political enemies.

In a linked case, last week Singapore deported fugitive Vietnamese intelligence officer Phan Van Anh Vu, who held a senior rank in the secret police.

Vu was trying to seek asylum in Germany, his lawyers said, arguing he may have information about Thanh's kidnapping on German soil.

Transparency International has ranked Vietnam 113 out of 176 on its corruption index, worse than its Southeast Asian neighbours Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar.

Agence France Presse - January 8, 2018

Hanoi court opens trial for Dinh La Thang

The Hanoi People’s Court began the trial of Dinh La Thang and his accomplices accused of wrongdoings at PetroVietnam Construction Joint Stock Corporation (PVC) on January 8.

The trial of Trinh Xuan Thanh and Diinh La Thang for alleged wrongdoings at PetroVietnam and one of its subsidiaries, is set to begin today.

The 22 defendants in the case will be represented by a total of 42 lawyers, including three for Thang, former Politburo member and former Chairman of the Member Council of the State-owned Vietnam Oil and Gas Group, PetroVietnam.

Five lawyers will defend Thanh, former Chairman and General Director of PetroVietnam’s Construction Joint Stock Corporation PVC.

Twelve of the 22 defendants are accused of deliberately violating State regulations on economic management, causing severe consequences. Eight others were charged with misappropriating property.

Thanh and Vu Duc Thuan, former PVC General Director, are charged with both offenses.

According to the indictment by the Supreme People’s Procuracy of Viet Nam, this is an extremely serious case involving people holding key positions in important economic units and major national projects like the Thai Bình 2 thermal power plant.

The agency indicts Thăng with main responsibility for breaches in construction of the power plant.

He allegedly instructed PVC to carry out the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) package, which was illegally signed with the PetroVietnam Power Corporation (PV Power) under his order.

Based on the illegitimate contracts, Thăng went on to direct PetroVietnam to wrongfully advance over US$6.6 million and over VNĐ1.3 trillion ($57.7 million) for PVC, which was then misused by Thanh.

Thang’s actions is estimated to have caused losses of nearly VNĐ120 billion to the State.

Thanh and Thuận are also alledged to have directed Nguyen Anh Minh, former PVC Deputy General Director and Lương Văn Hòa, former Director of PVC’s Vung Ang-Quang Trach Oil and Power Project Management Board, to draw up false documents to withdraw more than VNĐ13 billion from the project for personal use.

Bankers in the dock

Also today, the HCM City People’s Court will open the third trial against Pham Cong Danh, the banker notoriously implicated in the biggest economic probe in Viet Nam’s history.

Among the 46 defendants in the case are high-level officials of different banks like the Viet Nam Construction Bank (VNCB), Sacombank and TPBank.

Seventy lawyers have been permitted to attend the trial, in which more than 200 people will be summoned as witnesses.

This will be the third trial against Danh, who is now serving 30 years in jail for wrongdoings at VNCB that incurred losses of more than VNĐ9 trillion, and other breaches at OceanBank.

In the new case against him, Danh is accused of using the VNCB’s money as collateral to take loans totalling more than VNĐ6 trillion from TPBank, Sacombank and BIDV.

The borrowed money, however, was for Danh’s personal use and he did not repay it.

VietnamNet Bridge - January 8, 2018