Prosecutors in Vietnam on Thursday recommended lengthy prison sentences for a former oil executive and a recently dismissed senior Communist Party official at their trial on charges of corruption and economic mismanagement related to millions of dollars of losses to the energy and banking sectors.
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 losses of more than U.S. $150 million.
The Supreme People’s Procuracy in Hanoi called for a life sentence for corruption and an additional 13-14 years in prison for “intentional misconduct” for Thanh, who Germany has accused Vietnam of kidnapping from a Berlin park and taking him home by force to face charges. Prosecutors could have sought a sentence of death for Thanh.
The procuracy also suggested 14-15 years in prison for misconduct for Thang, who is a former chairman of PetroVietnam and the most senior politician to face trial in decades in Vietnam, which has launched a crackdown on corruption in recent months that has netted dozens of former officials and bankers.
Thanh has denied accusations that he was responsible for cash bribes to officials, while Thang has said that a decision by former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the Politburo led to PetroVietnam’s losses.
The two men are among a group of 22 who were put on trial for charges of deliberate mismanagement, embezzlement, or both, as part of the crackdown, which has widened since general secretary of the Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong won a power struggle with Nguyen Tan Dung last year.
Members of the public said Thursday that the trial was an uncommon opportunity to see justice meted out to Vietnam’s elite, who they felt are rarely held accountable for their actions.
“The members of the Politburo should be brought to court to clarify the case and to make sure that those who violated the law are punished,” Ho Chi Minh City resident Tran Le Hoa said in a post on his Facebook page.
Another resident of Ho Chi Minh City, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, expressed frustration that “90 million Vietnamese people had to work so hard to pay taxes, which in the end went into the pockets of Thang and his accomplices.”
“Therefore, the trial against him and his collaborators makes me feel vindicated.”
Observers told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that Vietnam’s government is using the highly-publicized trial to send a message that it will not tolerate graft, and expected the fallout to be widespread.
“I’m sure that Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications is allowing the foreign press to watch the trial … as part of their plan to use the media firstly to spread information, and secondly to advertise their anti-corruption campaign to the world,” Ha Hoang Hop, a researcher at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Vo Van Tao, a Nha Trang-based independent journalist, said it was likely that there had been “very sensitive statements at the trial which reporters were forced to delete.”
“It’s going to be dramatic in the coming days when Thang reveals the names of all those connected to his case, including his superiors, and people in the government,” he added.
Others suggested that while Thang “deserves” to be put to trial, he was merely a pawn in a larger power struggle, and that those who are directly responsible for the economic mismanagement will never have to answer for their actions.
“What has happened to Thang makes me think of the idiom ‘we reap what we sow,’” Binh Duong-based activist Nguyen Thien Nhan said.
“Ultimately, I think what happened to him is the result of fighting among the different factions of the party.”
Ho Chi Minh City-based rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh said Thang’s statement that he was acting on decisions made by higher-level authorities is likely true.
“Although Vietnam’s Politburo does not have any official legal status, it always intervenes in every decision—even the government’s most rudimentary economic policies,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the Politburo is untouchable when it comes to legal process.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.