Trial of Vietnam oil executive allegedly kidnapped in Germany begins in Hanoi

The high-profile corruption trial against 22 former oil executives, including a manager Germany accuses Vietnam of kidnapping in Berlin last year, began in Hanoi on Monday.

Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former manager at a subsidiary of state-owned oil company PetroVietnam, fled to Germany in 2016 to evade criminal charges.

German authorities accuse Vietnamese security forces of kidnapping Thanh in a Berlin park in July and returning him to Vietnam against his will to face his share of embezzlement charges that, in total, purportedly caused government losses of over $150 million (€125 million).

Vietnam denied the accusation and said Thanh returned to the country of his own accord. The incident soured diplomatic relations between Berlin and Hanoi, leading Germany to expel two Vietnamese diplomats in August and September.

Thanh, whose German lawyer was banned from Vietnam on Thursday, is one of eight defendants who could potentially face the death penalty if found guilty. All are accused of economic mismanagement that led to huge losses at PetroVietnam.

Read more: Vietnam charges businessman ‘kidnapped’ in Berlin with corruption

Trinh Xuan Tanh (picture-alliance/dpa/Privat)

The alleged kidnapping of Trinh Xuan Thanh led Germany to expel two Vietnamese diplomats

Former Politburo member

Dinh La Thang, a former PetroVietnam chairman and head of the Communist Party in Ho Chi Min City, is the most senior executive on trial. Thang is accused of improperly awarding a state contract and causing millions of dollars of losses through mishandling PetroVietnam funds. The 57-year-old is one of first Politburo members to face prosecution in years and could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Read more: ‘Cold-War-style kidnapping’ – Berlin waits in vain for signal from Hanoi

Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong has overseen a harsh crackdown on corruption at PetroVietnam and the national banking sector since his re-election at the beginning of 2016.

Vietnam Hanoi - Nguyen Xuan Phuc (Getty Images/AFP/Na Son Nguyen)

Anti-corruption efforts have intensified since Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s re-election in 2016

The clampdown intensified after Vietnam’s security agencies became more influential in the Communist Party last year. Critics say the anti-corruption effort is political and aimed at close associates of former prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

The trial is due to last two weeks and no foreign media are allowed inside the court room.

amp/msh (AP, Reuters, dpa)