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Vietnam tries former oil executives in widened crackdown

AP  |  Hanoi 

A Vietnamese began a major corruption trial today of 22 defendants, including a former senior Vietnamese and a top executive the is accused of snatching from

Most of the defendants are current or former senior executives, including three other former chairmen of state- owned

The company and the sector have been at the center of an unprecedented crackdown on corruption under the watch of

Former Politburo member Dinh La Thang, 57, also a former chairman, is accused of "deliberately violating state economic management regulations, causing serious consequences" for his role in awarding PetroVietnam's Construction Joint Stock Co, or PVC, a contract to build a thermoelectric plant without a proper bidding process.

He also allegedly advanced USD 67 million to PVC, which did not use the funds for the proper purpose, causing losses of USD 5.5 million to the state.

Thang, the first former Poltiburo member to be prosecuted in decades, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Trinh Xuan Thanh, 51, a former PVC chairman, is accused of the same charge as well as embezzling USD 186,000 from another thermoelectric plant.

The embezzlement offense carries the death penalty.

In August, accused Vietnam's intelligence service of kidnapping Thanh from a park. denied the allegation, saying Thanh turned himself in to police voluntarily, but the incident strained ties and expelled two Vietnamese diplomats.

The trial of Thang and Thanh "sends out a stern warning that there will be no 'no-go zones' in this campaign, and corrupt officials, no matter who they are and what position they hold, will be brought to justice," said Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.

"The campaign has some aspects of political infighting, but the main is still the party's wish to stem widespread corruption, which has undermined the people's confidence in the party's governance capabilities as well as its economic reform efforts," Hiep said.

He said political power was previously fragmented in Vietnam, weakening the fight against corruption, but is now concentrated in the party The corruption crackdown is intensifying now because Trong and his allies were able to consolidate power after a party congress in early 2016 at which Trong won a second five-year term, Hiep said.

Once a rising political star, Thang was dismissed from the all-powerful Politburo in May and was subsequently fired as of the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. He was arrested on December 8, and his brother Dinh Manh Thang was detained one day later for alleged embezzlement in another corruption case.

Hiep said the trial of Thanh will continue to have a chilling effect on relations between and Germany and may affect a free trade agreement between and the

"The EUVFTA may be delayed, but I believe it will eventually be ratified by the EU, especially if the trial of Mr Thanh is seen as transparent and fair. In the end, economic considerations may outweigh political ones in this case," he said.

Security around the house in central was tight.

"I'm happy that the is getting tough on corruption," said Ngo Quang Hung, 62, a retiree who was among several dozen people gathered outside the courthouse.

are not allowed to attend the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.

In Berlin, said embassy representatives were inside the courtroom. "We will observe it very closely and then evaluate what this means for our policy," Breul said.

Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, noted that "we have condemned this kidnapping as completely unacceptable. This is a breach of the law."

Germany has made clear that the incident has weighed on trust between the two governments "and that it is necessary for Vietnam to act to restore this trust," Seibert said.

Vietnam ranked 113th out of 176 countries in Transparency International's 2016 corruption index.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, January 08 2018. 20:11 IST