Fugitive Vietnamese Tycoon Seeking German Asylum From Detention in Singapore

Phan Van Anh Vu, a former intelligence officer, is wanted for ‘disclosing state secrets.’

Phan Van Anh Vu in an undated photo.

A wealthy businessman wanted by authorities in Vietnam on charges of espionage has been detained by immigration officials in Singapore and is seeking asylum in Germany to avoid being repatriated, according to reports.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security issued an order to prosecute Da Nang-based real estate developer Phan Van Anh Vu, 42, on Dec. 20 for “deliberately disclosing state secrets” under Article 263 of the country’s Penal Code, state media reported last week, without providing details about the charges.

Vu was not at home or at his office the following day when authorities tried to arrest him, the report said, adding that police had seized “important documents” after searching his house and subsequently “began the hunt” for him.

The fugitive tycoon, who is also an intelligence officer, is believed to have entered Singapore on Dec. 21, but was arrested a week later when he tried to cross the border into Malaysia on a passport that had been cancelled by Vietnamese authorities, media reports said. Reuters news agency quoted a lawyer engaged by Vu’s family as saying he was attempting to travel to Germany.

Other reports quoted Vu’s lawyers Tuesday as saying they had not been granted access to their client in Singapore, and that they had written to the German embassy there about the case, saying the tycoon could face a death sentence if repatriated to Vietnam.

The lawyers also noted that Vu could reveal important information about the kidnapping of a Vietnamese former oil executive in Berlin, but said they had yet to receive an answer from German officials.

In July, Vietnamese security agents grabbed Trinh Xuan Thanh from a park in Berlin in an operation Germany called a “scandalous violation” of its sovereignty, though Hanoi maintains that he returned home voluntarily.

Thanh, who will be tried later this month, is one of several executives arrested by authorities this year in a crackdown on corruption in Vietnam’s banking and energy sectors.

Asylum difficult

German lawyer Petra Isabel Schlagenhauf, who represents Thanh, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that it will be difficult for Vu to obtain German asylum based on his current situation.

“An asylum petition formally only can be made in German territory, not from outside, but there could be the possibility of a humanitarian visa in the German migration law,” she said.

“I cant say what will be the official German position about that. But all depends on whether it is possible to avoid having this person [taken] back to Vietnam.”

Le Nhu Tien, a former member of Vietnam’s National Assembly, criticized what he called “loopholes” in Vietnam’s legal process that he said have allowed defendants in corruption cases to flee the country or go into hiding.

Tien, who is also former deputy head of Vietnam’s Committee for Culture, Education, Youth and Children, told RFA the fugitives had made off with “trillions of dong” (1 trillion dong = U.S. $44 million) in assets and questioned whether Vietnam “is determined enough” to recover the money.

According to state media reports, Vu was formerly a police senior lieutenant colonel with close ties to former secretary of the Da Nang Communist Party Committee and Communist Party Central Committee member Nguyen Xuan Anh, who was removed from both posts in October last year.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.