WASHINGTON - The German government has condemned Vietnam’s “unprecedented and blatant violation” of German and international law by kidnapping a Vietnamese citizen seeking asylum in Berlin and returning him to Hanoi to face criminal charges.
The German foreign ministry expelled a Vietnamese intelligence officer and summoned Vietnam’s ambassador to hear a complaint that the incident “has the potential to have a massive negative impact on relations between Germany and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
A statement issued in Berlin Wednesday said senior German officials have “no reasonable doubt” that Vietnamese security services and embassy staff carried out the kidnapping last week of Trinh Xuan Thanh, 51, an executive of the state-owned energy company PetroVietnam, which has been the target of recent corruption investigations that have ensnared government and business leaders. Thanh is accused of responsibility for nearly $150 million in losses by a division of PetroVietnam at a time when he headed that group.
Seized by armed men
A Vietnamese-language newspaper and German media reported that armed men accosted and seized Thanh in Berlin’s Tiergarten, a large forested park in the German capital, July 23, the day before he was to appear for a hearing on his request for political asylum in Germany.
Thanh, a former high-ranking member Vietnam’s Communist Party, turned up in Hanoi this past Monday. Police in the Vietnamese capital claimed he decided to turn himself in, 10 months after an international warrant was issued seeking his arrest.
The Hanoi police did not explain how Thanh made his way from Berlin or why he returned home. No pictures of him have been published and family members were said to have been unaware that he was back in Vietnam.
The German foreign ministry said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government was demanding that Thanh be allowed to travel back to Germany immediately, so authorities there could examine both his asylum application and Vietnam’s request for his extradition. In addition, a spokesman for the German foreign ministry, Martin Schaefer, told reporters: “We reserve the right to draw further consequences, if necessary, at a political, economic and development policy level.”
In Hanoi, no comment
VOA asked the Vietnamese foreign ministry to comment on the case but received no response. Media reports in Germany said the Vietnamese embassy in Berlin was not responding to any inquiries.
Vietnam’s current anti-corruption drive marks a period of change and maneuvering within the country’s Communist Party.
“Massive corruption has been like rust eating away at the authority of the legitimacy of the Communist Party of Vietnam,” Professor Carl Thayer told VOA from Australia.
Thayer, an emeritus professor of the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defense Force Academy, explained: “This has been openly acknowledged by top party officials for well over a decade. Each major corruption case is judged not only on the financial loss to the state, but also on its impact on political stability.
“I liken anti-corruption campaigns to campaigns to end prostitution,” Thayer continued. “They are never-ending, because human greed is involved and officials will take risks.”
Quick promotions for Thanh
Thanh, a Hanoi native, graduated from the Hanoi University of Architecture in 1990 and then worked until 1995 in Germany, which currently is Vietnam’s largest trading partner in the European Union.
After returning to Vietnam, he advanced rapidly through a series of executive positions of increasing responsibility, at a state-owned technology and economic development company, a state-owned civil and industrial construction company and, in 2007, PetroVietnam Construction Joint Stock Corporation. He was chairman from 2009-2013, and was awarded a Laborers’ Hero in the Renovation Era medal in 2011.
Thanh moved into the government realm in September 2013 as deputy chief of office and head of the representative office of the Ministry of Industry and Trade in the central province of Da Nang.
In early June last year, Thanh landed in the spotlight after a photograph of him driving a privately owned car bearing government number plates was posted online.
Tripped up by privilege
An uproar ensued as people questioned why Thanh, then a deputy chairman of the southern province of Hau Giang, was assigned a government plate. After review by authorized agencies, the province’s leaders admitted they had made a mistake.
However, the outcry caught the attention of the head of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trong, who on June 9, 2016, called for an investigation of Thanh’s activities. That scrutiny uncovered losses of $147 million at PetroVietnam during Thanh’s tenure.
In July 2016, Thanh requested annual leave. The following month, he requested sick leave for medical treatment overseas, and then disappeared.
By mid-September, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security had charged Thanh, along with four others, with mismanagement at a subsidiary of the national oil and gas giant PetroVietnam, had removed him as a member of the Communist Party, and had issued an international warrant for his arrest.
The resulting worldwide manhunt for Thanh appeared to be fruitless until the recent events in Berlin.
One report this week indicated the two governments involved had discussed the Thanh case before he was abducted in Berlin.
The Associated Press said Germany’s foreign ministry spokesman, Martin Schaefer, confirmed that German and Vietnamese officials discussed Hanoi’s request for Thanh’s extradition during a meeting in Hamburg July 7-8, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit.
This report originated on VOA Vietnamese.