Ex-Viet oil exec offers tearful apology before graft verdict

Trinh Xuan Thanh, the former head of PetroVietnam Construction, in court last week.
Trinh Xuan Thanh, the former head of PetroVietnam Construction, in court last week.PHOTO: REUTERS

HANOI • A former top oil executive who is facing a life sentence for graft issued a tearful apology yesterday before the court issued its verdict.

Speaking in a Hanoi court in his final appearance before the ruling, Trinh Xuan Thanh, the former head of state-run PetroVietnam Construction, said sorry to the communist leadership and the "people of the whole country".

Thanh's case - tied to a rare wide-ranging purge in the secretive communist country - is receiving added attention because of the intrigue surrounding it.

He was allegedly kidnapped from a park in Berlin last July, sparking a diplomatic row with Germany. Vietnam denies the accusation, insisting Thanh returned home voluntarily to face charges. "I am very regretful, and... I hope the jury would convey my apology and regret to party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong," Thanh said while sobbing, as seen in a video posted on state media.

Video footage of the apology, and that of his former boss and co-defendant Dinh La Thang went viral in a country that has been captivated by the one-party state's rare crackdown on dozens of former bankers, officials and state executives.

The duo have denied most of the accusations but said they would take responsibility for the state's losses.

They are on trial for allegedly causing US$5.2 million (S$6.9 million) in losses involving a PetroVietnam investment in a thermal power plant.

Twenty state officials are also defendants in the trial, which has been closed off to international media.

In a related case, Singapore earlier this month deported the fugitive Vietnamese intelligence officer Phan Van Anh Vu. His lawyers said Vu - who held a senior rank in the secret police - was trying to seek asylum in Germany, and may have information about Thanh's kidnapping on German soil.

In addition to mismanagement, Thanh is accused of embezzlement, which can carry the death sentence. Prosecutors, however, have asked for life imprisonment instead.

Observers said the government's anti-corruption campaign is politically driven, mirroring a similar graft crackdown in neighbouring China.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Ex-Viet oil exec offers tearful apology before graft verdict'. Print Edition | Subscribe