Vietnam to try former oil executives in widened crackdown

HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam will put on trial nearly two dozen former senior oil executives, state media reported Wednesday, as communist authorities widen their crackdown on corruption.

Among those facing charges are Dinh La Thang, a former member of the all-powerful Communist Party Politburo and a former head of state energy giant PetroVietnam, and Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former chairman of the board of PetroVietnam's Construction Joint Stock company, or PVC.

Thang is accused of "deliberately violating state economic management regulations, causing serious consequences" for his role in awarding PVC a contract to build a thermo power plant without a proper bidding process. He allegedly also advanced $67 million to PVC, which did not use the funds for the right purpose, causing losses of $5.5 million to the state.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. He is the first former Communist Party Politburo member to stand trial since 1979, when former deputy chairman of the National Assembly Hoang Van Hoan was sentenced to death in absentia for treason after he had fled the country.

Thanh is accused of the same charges in addition to embezzling $186,000 from another thermo power plant. Germany accused Vietnamese intelligence services of kidnapping Thanh in Berlin on July 23 while he was seeking asylum. Vietnam says he voluntarily gave himself in to police.

The incident has strained relations between the two countries. Germany expelled two Vietnamese diplomats in retaliation.

The official Vietnam News Agency said the two men will go on trial along with 20 others, including three other former chairmen of the board of PetroVietnam, on Jan. 8.

The trials are expected to last two weeks.

Scandal-hit PetroVietnam has been in the center of an unprecedented high-level anti-corruption crackdown over the past two years with more than 20 of its current or former senior executives on trial or under investigation.

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

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