Slovakia may have inadvertently assisted Vietnam’s secret police in spiriting away a former state oil executive who was allegedly kidnapped from Germany, according to media reports and sources, who say fallout from the incident has “cast a shadow” on a trade deal between Vietnam and the EU.
Germany has accused Vietnam of kidnapping Trinh Xuan Thanh, the 52-year-old former head of PetroVietnam Construction (PVC), from a Berlin park on July 23 last year and taking him home by force to face charges of mismanagement and embezzlement. Thanh, who had been seeking asylum in Germany, was sentenced by a Vietnamese court to two terms of life in prison in January.
Last week, Germany put on trial a Vietnamese-Czech man identified as Long N.H., 47, who prosecutors say rented a Volkswagen Multivan T5 in Czech Republic’s capital Prague and drove it to Berlin, where armed men dragged Thanh and a female companion into the vehicle. They say Long returned the vehicle to Prague the same day.
German media recently reported that Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security To Lam met with Slovakia’s former Interior Minister Robert Kalinak at the Borik Hotel in Slovakia’s capital Bratislava on July 26, 2017—three days after Thanh’s alleged kidnapping—and that members of his delegation included suspects believed to have taken part in the abduction.
The reports suggested that in facilitating the meeting, Slovakia may have aided Vietnamese secret police in absconding with Thanh, whether knowingly or not.
In response to the reports, Slovakia’s Interior Ministry issued a statement acknowledging the meeting and expressing concerns that the hour-long talks might have been a cover for something other than working purposes.
The Interior Ministry said the Vietnamese delegation had faced “undisclosed scheduling changes” and that Slovakian officials “offered a government plane to fly them from Prague to Bratislava, and then Moscow,” without providing details about who was aboard the flight.
“If the information provided by the German authorities is confirmed, we will view that as a manifestation of gross unfairness on the part of the Vietnamese partner, as an abuse of our hospitality for other than friendly relations, and as a destabilisation of the well-functioning bilateral relations between the two countries,” the ministry’s statement said, adding that the meeting was prearranged.
The ministry said it has been cooperating with German investigators and was also communicating with Vietnam to review passenger manifests for the flights in question.
Le Trung Khoa, editor in chief of Germany-based thoibao.de—an online Vietnamese newspaper that has been covering Thanh’s case—relayed further details of the one-hour meeting between Lam and Kalinak to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, saying news of Slovakia’s involvement in the abduction had “made the situation quite tense.”
“Police minister To Lam … had a brief meeting with Slovakia’s interior minister—his group consisted of 12 members, including high-ranking officials of the police ministry such as the deputy director of the ministry’s intelligence department [General Duong Minh Hung], who the German government accuses of involvement in kidnapping Trinh Xuan Thanh,” he said.
“Minister To Lam asked Slovakia’s interior minister to lend the Vietnamese delegation an airplane for their trip. [Kalinak] just resigned [in March] and he has said that he doesn’t know if Trinh Xuan Thanh was on the airplane or not, but he suspects the plane may have had been used for ‘an illegal purpose.’”
While Vietnam insists that Thanh returned home voluntarily to face embezzlement charges, Germany has condemned his alleged kidnapping as a “scandalous violation” of its sovereignty, and has expelled two Vietnamese diplomats and summoned the ambassador several times over the incident.
Le Dang Doanh, an economist based in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi and a member of the Committee for Development Policy under the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), recently told RFA that Thanh’s case has “cast a shadow” on the possibility of a free trade agreement (FTA) between Vietnam and the EU.
“Vietnam and the EU enjoy good economic relations—they don’t compete with one another—and some 20 percent of Vietnamese exports go to the EU, making it one of Vietnam’s largest trade partners,” he said.
“For the long-term benefits of workers, I hope that both sides will eventually sign an FTA, but the reality is that it is very unlikely to be passed in the near future, as the two sides have a lot of difficulties to overcome.”
But Vu Quang Viet, an economist who formerly worked with the U.N., told RFA that Thanh’s case was not significant enough to derail a major trade agreement.
“Normally, the passage of a trade agreement does not depend on human rights issues,” Viet said.
“Most businessmen and governments see things that way—human rights issues can delay passage for a period of time, but at some point, everything will return to normal,” he said, noting that Vietnam’s poor human rights record had done nothing to prevent the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement between Vietnam and 10 other nations in March this year.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.