German court sentences second person in Vietnam kidnapping case

Le Anh Tu will serve a 5-year term for his part in the abduction of Trinh Xuan Thanh.
By RFA Vietnamese
German court sentences second person in Vietnam kidnapping case Le Anh Tu (center, right) on trial for his involvement in the the kidnapping case of Trinh Xuan Thanh in Berlin, Germany .

The Berlin High Court has sentenced Le Anh Tu to five years in prison for his part in the kidnapping of a former Vietnamese provincial official.

Tu, 32, was living in Prague before the July 2017 kidnapping of Trinh Xuan Thanh in a Berlin park. He fled to Vietnam, and was arrested five years later on his return to the Czech Republic.

“This trial lasted three months,” Berlin-based freelance journalist Hieu Ba Linh told RFA after Monday's sentencing. “The court sentenced defendant Le Anh Tu to five years in prison on two counts. The first crime is espionage. The second is participating in the kidnapping of Trinh Xuan."

Linh observed the entire trial from the courtroom and said the prosecution presented a lot of evidence to prove Tu participated in the kidnapping. The evidence showed that Tu tailed Trinh Xuan Thanh and his partner Do Thi Minh Phuong when she arrived from Hanoi to meet him. He was also the driver who brought the two to the Vietnamese Embassy after they were kidnapped by the Vietnamese secret service.

The prosecution said he also drove another vehicle in a convoy taking the two from Brno in the Czech Republic to the Hotel Borik in Bratislava.

In the Slovakian capital, Vietnamese Public Security Minister Nam To Lam was waiting for him, the court heard.

 “Hotel Borik is owned by the Slovak Government. There, To Lam's delegation met with the Slovak Ministry of Interior to talk. Actually, this talk was just a step towards bringing Trinh Xuan Thanh back to Vietnam,” Linh said.

“To Lam borrowed a Slovakian plane to get out of the Schengen area and fly to Moscow. The meeting with the Slovak Ministry of the Interior was aimed at bringing Trinh Xuan Thanh out of the Schengen area."

Le Anh Tu is the second defendant convicted by a German court for participating in the kidnapping. The first was Nguyen Hai Long, who was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison in 2018.

Reporter Hieu Ba Linh said Long received a lighter sentence because he pleaded guilty to "participating in the kidnapping of Trinh Xuan Thanh" and admitted to "working for the Vietnamese intelligence agency," while Le Anh Tu and his lawyer denied the crime.

“In the case of defendant Le Anh Tu, from the very beginning, the court suggested to plead guilty and the court also said that it would consider a lower sentence if he pleaded guilty. However, Le Anh Tu did not agree to plead guilty," Linh said.

Le Anh Tu's lawyer said Tu played a passive role in the kidnapping because he was only the driver.

However, the prosecution presented evidence that Tu was in direct contact with Lt. Gen. Duong Minh Hung of the Vietnamese police, who came from Vietnam to Berlin to lead the kidnapping.

Thanh was vice chairman of Vietnam’s Hau Giang province before being investigated in 2016 for "deliberately violating State regulations, causing serious consequences," He fled to Germany and applied for asylum before being prosecuted.

A year later, Thanh appeared on Vietnamese television saying he had returned to Vietnam to turn himself in. Vietnamese authorities never said how he returned from Germany.

Hieu Ba Linh said, although two people have been convicted of his kidnapping it is very unlikely Thanh will be released by Vietnamese authorities and returned to Germany.

He said during Tu’s trial, the court wrote a letter requesting the German Foreign Ministry to update it on Thanh's status in Vietnam. The ministry said one of its officials met Trinh Xuan Thanh privately on the sidelines of a trial in Hanoi in which he was a witness, but offered little hope to the court.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that so far there is no indication that Vietnam will release Trinh Xuan Thanh,” Linh said.

Last November, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz brought up the case during a meeting with Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Hanoi but nothing came of the talks.

RFA emailed Trinh Xuan Thanh's personal lawyer, Petra Isabel Schlagenhauf, to request comment but did not receive a reply.

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.