Authorities in Vietnam on Monday put on trial 22 defendants on charges of corruption and economic mismanagement related to millions of dollars of losses to the country’s energy and banking sectors, with former top oil executives and a recently dismissed senior Communist Party official among the defendants.
Former Politburo member Dinh La Thang, 57, faces charges of economic mismanagement, causing losses of U.S. $35 million in oil company investments in Vietnam’s Ocean Bank, while former PetroVietnam Construction chairman Trinh Xuan Thanh, 51, is accused of embezzlement and faces a possible sentence of death if convicted.
In August, Germany accused Vietnam of kidnapping Thanh from a Berlin park and taking him home by force to face charges.
The incident led to strained diplomatic ties between the two countries, though Vietnam said that Thanh had returned home voluntarily.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Petra Schlagenhauf—Thanh’s lawyer in Germany, where he had sought asylum—said it was clear that Thanh had been forced back, adding that a televised statement Thanh made on his return saying he had come back on his own was likely coerced.
“It was no voluntary return,“ Schlagenhauf said. “I suppose he was obliged, I don’t know by which measures, to say this on Vietnamese television.”
“I had spoken with him many times before, and I know that he would never have gone back to Vietnam voluntarily, because he knew that he would never get a trial [defined] by the criteria used by civilized states on these kinds of issues.”
Schlagenhauf noted that Thanh’s forced return to Vietnam has led to tensions in what she called Vietnam’s strategic partnership with Germany, an important trading partner, with new economic agreements between the two countries now in jeopardy.
“And this case of kidnapping has also caused a lot of criticism in other European states,” she said.
Thanh’s kidnapping in Germany by Vietnamese agents has caused “very serious damage to Vietnam’s international image and prestige,” agreed regional expert Carlyle Thayer, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
“This action was unprecedented and portrays Vietnam as a quasi-police state that does not respect the rule of law,” Thayer said in a Jan. 5 briefing published by the Thayer Consultancy.
Noting that Thanh is the only one of the 22 defendants now on trial to face a possible death penalty, Thayer said that if Thanh is executed, this will have “a chilling effect on high-level officials who are involved in massive fraud leading to major losses for the state.”
“[But] in Vietnam’s case, massive high-level corruption can only be curbed by having autonomous investigative and audit agencies as well as a freer media that are independent from political influence,” Thayer said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Richard Finney.