HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A former oil executive was sentenced to life in prison and a former high-ranking Vietnamese government official received a lengthy prison term Monday at the end of a major corruption trial.
The 22 defendants in the case were mostly current or former executives at PetroVietnam and were convicted of mismanagement, embezzlement or both in their tenures at the state energy giant.
Former PetroVietnam chairman Dinh La Thang, the first Politburo member to be jailed in decades, was sentenced to 13 years in jail by the People’s Court in the capital Hanoi. He was accused of deliberate economic mismanagement that cost the state millions.
Trinh Xuan Thanh, an ex-chairman of PetroVietnam’s construction arm, was given life imprisonment for embezzlement. Thanh was also convicted of economic management. Germany accused Vietnam agents of snatching him from a Berlin park last year, a charge Vietnam denied saying Thanh turned himself in to police voluntarily. The incident strained relations between the two countries.
Three other former chairmen of PetroVietnam were sentenced to 9 years in jail each for economic mismanagement. Punishment for the other defendants ranged from 22 years in prison to suspended sentences.
Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted a judge as saying the prosecutions were “well-founded.”
The Communist Party under the watch of General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong is waging an unprecedented crackdown on corruption in Vietnam, with PetroVietnam and the country’s banking sector at the center.
Foreign press were not allowed to attend the two-week trial, though more than 100 Vietnamese had gathered outside the courthouse as the sentences were announced.
Thang was convicted of “deliberately violating state economic management regulations, causing serious consequences” by choosing PetroVietnam’s Construction Joint Stock Co., or PVC, to build a thermo power plant without a proper bidding and appraisal process.
Thang was accused of ordering an advance payment of $67 million to PVC, which did not use the funds for the proper purpose, causing losses of $5.5 million to the state.
A retired government official, speaking outside the court, said the sentences were tough enough.
“I think the sentences handed down were fair. It is necessary for the country to fight against corruption,” the retiree, Hoang Dinh Thanh, 70, said.
Some in the crowd waved as the convicted were driven by in prison vehicles.
Some expressed sympathy for Thang for his good deeds for the country.
“I understand those who committed wrongdoings must be punished,” said Hoang Thi Ha, 42-year-old shop owner. “But Mr. Thang has done many good things for the country. I’d hoped he would have got leniency for that merit. His jail sentence is a bit harsh,” she added.
Jonathan London, a lecturer at the Leiden University in the Netherlands and a Vietnam expert, said further reforms and commitments by the communist authorities are needed to root out corruption.
He said while these jail sentences may be dramatic, history in other countries suggests in the longer term that corruption is not best fought by punishment “but precisely the kinds of institutional reforms and levels of commitment to transparency that he Vietnamese public opinion has been calling for, but which Vietnamese leaders have been unfortunately unwilling to embrace.”
Thang is accused of economic management in another case for his role in PetroVietnam’s buying shares worth $36 million in Ocean commercial joint bank. PetroVietnam lost all the investment when the State Bank of Vietnam bought the bank for nothing. He is expected to stand trial in the coming months.
Thang was once a rising political star but was dismissed from the all-powerful Politburo in May and was subsequently fired as Communist Party secretary of the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. He was arrested on Dec. 8.
In the meantime, Thanh is scheduled to be put on trial on Wednesday accused of embezzling $622,000 from a property development project.
Another trial involving 46 defendants, including many former bankers, is currently taking place in Ho Chi Minh City.