Runaway bigwig receives second life sentence as PetroVietnam purge continues

Trinh Xuan Thanh has been found guilty for losses worth millions of dollars at the energy giant's real estate unit.

Vietnam’s notorious runaway oil executive was sentenced to life in prison for the second time in a month on Monday, for embezzlement at a subsidiary of the country's top energy firm PetroVietnam.

Trinh Xuan Thanh, former chairman of PetroVietnam Construction JSC (PVC), was found guilty of causing million-dollar losses at its real estate subsidiary PVP Land.

The indictment said Thanh had colluded with seven people including other former oil executives to falsely devalue PVP Land shares to embezzle VND49 billion (more than $2 million) from a stake sale in 2010.

Thanh alone pocketed VND14 billion ($616,500).

The trial was opened on January 24, two days after Thanh was sentenced to life imprisonment for million-dollar losses at power plants under the control of his construction firm. Dinh La Thang, a former Politburo member, was sentenced to 13 years for mismanagement as board chairman of PetroVietnam at the same trial.

At the trial on Monday, Thang’s younger brother Dinh Manh Thang, a former energy executive, was sentenced to nine years in jail for embezzling VND5 billion from the fraudulent share sale.

Other defendants, accused of embezzling between VND2-20 billion, received up to 13 years in jail.

Thanh, 51, served as board chairman at PVC from 2009 to 2013, before holding several government positions including deputy chief of staff at the Ministry of Industry and Trade and deputy chairman of the southern province of Hau Giang.

He caught media attention in June 2016 for driving a $230,000 Lexus carrying a government license plate in a country where the average annual income was around $2,200. The scandal caused uproar over the use of public money, prompting Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong to order a probe into his political career.

But by that time, Thanh had already fled to Germany. Police said he returned to Hanoi and turned himself in last year.

The investigation found him accountable for losses of around VND3.2 trillion ($147 million) in total at PVC.

The PetroVietnam trials have reached a historic scale, marking a milestone in Vietnam’s fight against corruption.

Trong, the 73-year-old leader of the sweeping campaign, has described it as being at an “all-time high,” and has urged authorities to keep up the momentum.

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