Vietnam hunts former state-oil exec for 'mismanagement'

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnam has issued an arrest warrant for a scandal-hit senior official accused of mismanaging a government-run oil giant, the latest executive targeted in the government's attempt to clean up the corrupt state sector.

Trinh Xuan Thanh, one of the highest ranking officials to be sought by police in the communist nation in recent years, has not been seen in public since he left the country last month, according to state-run media.

His arrest warrant came just one day after four of his former colleagues at the PetroVietnam Construction (PVC) subsidiary were arrested for allegedly costing the firm nearly US$150 million (S$205 million) during his time as chairman.

Vietnam's Public Security Ministry said on its website late Friday (Sept 16) it was seeking Thanh for "intentionally violating state regulations on economic management causing serious consequences".

Thanh was removed as PVC chairman in 2013 but has since shuffled through a number of senior government postings, including most recently as deputy head of Hau Giang province.

He left the country in mid-August for medical care and was stripped of his Communist Party membership last week to pave the way for a criminal investigation, according to state-run VNExpress news site.

He has been a marked man ever since he was spotted driving a pricey Lexus with a state license plate, sparking public outrage over inappropriate use of public funds.

Vietnam's powerful Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong vowed in June to launch an investigation into Thanh.

Vietnam has been struggling to clean up its vast and inefficient state-run sector for years, and the new communist administration in power since January has vowed to tackle corruption.

There have been a string of high-profile arrests and prosecutions of wealthy businessmen and executives in recent years, but analysts say they are the result of political infighting rather than a genuine commitment to reform.

Last week, a Vietnamese court convicted the former chairman of Vietnam Construction Bank and 35 other employees for stealing more thanUS$400 million from the joint-stock bank.

Transparency International ranks Vietnam 112 out of 168 on its corruption index, worse than its South-east Asian neighbours Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar.