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Communist Purge Plays Out in Vietnam’s Trial of the Decade

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Trinh Xuan Thanh, center, appears in a Hanoi court earlier this month. Mr. Thanh, the former chairman of a construction arm of Vietnamese state energy giant PetroVietnam, was sentenced to life in prison on Monday amid a crackdown on corruption. PHOTO: DOAN TAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

James Hooky reports: The disappearance of a former Vietnamese official in Berlin last summer gave the outside world an early glimpse into an anticorruption drive captivating communist-run Vietnam.

Germany said Vietnamese agents kidnapped Trinh Xuan Thanh, who had been seeking asylum there. But Vietnam said the former executive at state-owned oil-and-gas giant PetroVietnam returned home of his own accord to face corruption charges stemming from losses of $150 million.

On Monday, a Hanoi court sentenced him to life in prison. He was convicted alongside other defendants, including a former Politburo member who had once been groomed as a potential senior leader and who was himself ordered to serve 13 years. Other officials and executives were handed sentences ranging from a 13-month suspended sentence to 22 years in prison.

In its ruling, the court said the severe sentences were “a necessary warning against the abuse of power.”

The spectacle of Mr. Thanh being led into court over the past few weeks, disheveled and handcuffed along with the former Ho Chi Minh City party boss Dinh La Thang, garnered a flurry of attention in Vietnam.

On one level it is Vietnam’s largest anticorruption trial in years, and an indication of the Communist Party’s efforts to rid itself of a problem that could undermine its authority in one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies.

Besides Messrs. Thanh and Thang—the latter was a former chairman of PetroVietnam before becoming transport minister and then party chief in Vietnam’s largest city—20 other defendants are on trial for alleged corruption offenses.

The investigations and trials appear set to widen. In a concurrent mass trial in Hanoi, another 46 defendants, mostly officials and bankers, are accused of defrauding a bank.

A separate September embezzlement case against 51 other officials and bankers resulted in one executive being sentenced to death for corruption, while several others … (read more)

via WSJ

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