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Police Widen PetroVietnam Graft Inquiry

 A woman walks out of a branch of Ocean Bank located in the PetroVietnam building in Hanoi, Vietnam, Sept. 1, 2017.
A woman walks out of a branch of Ocean Bank located in the PetroVietnam building in Hanoi, Vietnam, Sept. 1, 2017.

Vietnamese police have widened their investigation into alleged graft and mismanagement connected with the state-owned oil and gas giant PetroVietnam that caused $69 million in losses.

Three PetroVietnam subsidiaries are being investigated for alleged abuse of power in appropriating $5.3 million, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement late Wednesday.

The case centers on Ocean Bank, which was taken over by State Bank in 2015 at no cost after reporting losses of $445 million. PetroVietnam had owned 20 percent of the bank and lost all its investment after the takeover.

Dozens face charges

Ocean Bank’s former chairman, Ha Van Tham, and general director Nguyen Xuan Son face embezzlement charges. They are among 51 bankers and businessmen including 46 senior executives at Ocean Bank who are being tried in Hanoi for alleged mismanagement.

The bank gave $69 million in interest exceeding the rate set by the central bank to more than 50,000 individuals and nearly 400 companies and institutions, including three subsidiaries of PetroVietnam, according to the accusations. Tham and Son are accused of initiating the policy, and the other defendants are accused of implementing it.

The police statement said $3.4 million of the excessive interest was given to PetroVietnam Exploration and Production Corp., $852,000 was given to Binh Son Oil Refinery Co. and $1 million was given to VietsovPetro, a joint venture between PetroVietnam and Russia.

Ocean Bank executives told the court they had to offer customers higher interest rates to attract savings and that the bank would have collapsed if they had not done so. They also told the court they had given senior executives of the three PetroVietnam subsidiaries tens of thousands of dollars for their support. The senior executives denied the allegations.

Harsh sentences sought

Prosecutors on Thursday sought the death penalty for former Ocean Bank General Director Son, who later served as chairman of PetroVietnam, according to the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper.

The newspaper said prosecutors also sought life imprisonment for Tham and penalties ranging from an 18 month suspended sentence to 27 years in jail for 49 other defendants.

Over the past two weeks, police have arrested or put under house four other former or current senior executives of PetroVietnam and a former deputy State Bank governor who oversaw bad debts at credit institutions.

Party boss fired

In May, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party fired Dinh La Thang as the party boss in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City after finding he made “serious mistakes and violations’’ while heading PetroVietnam.

Thang had earlier been removed from the Politburo, the highest decision-making body of the Communist Party of Vietnam. He headed PetroVietnam from 2005 until 2011, when he was appointed transport minister. He served until early last year, when he took up the posts in the Politburo and Ho Chi Minh City.

The party’s inspection committee said in April that Thang permitted an investment in the private Ocean Bank that exceeded regulations, causing “very serious losses to PetroVietnam.’’

Thang still retains membership in the Communist Party’s Central Committee and was appointed vice chair of the party’s economic commission.