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Vietnam state oil company chief faces death penalty

September 14, 2017

Vietnamese prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Nguyen Xuan Son, the former chairman of PetroVietnam. Son is one of dozens of officials connected to a corruption case that caused $69 million in losses.

Nguyen Xuan Son
Image: picture-alliance/epa/Stringer

The former chairman of the Vietnam's state owned oil company, PetroVietnam, faces "an overall penalty of death" on charges including financial wrongdoing and usurping assets, the Ministry of Public Security said on Wednesday.

Nguyen Xuan Son is one of over 50 banking and energy officials on trial for embezzlement, as Vietnamese state prosecutors widen their investigation into a multi-million-dollar corruption scandal that has rocked the country.

Prosecutors have already sought life imprisonment for the founder of one of Vietnam's largest lenders, Ocean Group. Business tycoon Ha Van Tham faces charges ranging from embezzlement to abuse of power, according to the Supreme People's Procuracy of Vietnam. Dozens of Ocean Group staff could also face years in prison for their role in the scandal.

Read more: Vietnam resumes huge banking-sector corruption trial

Trinh Xuan Thanh Vietnam
The series of corruption trials against former executives have become must-watch television in Vietnam. Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H.Dinh Nam

What happened

Authorities discovered wrongdoing within PetroVietnam as part of their investigation into Ocean Group.

- In 2009, the state oil company acquired a $35 million (29.5 million euro) stake in Ocean Group's banking unit, Ocean Bank.

- Oceanbank executives stand accused of handing out some $69 million in interest exceeding the rate set by the central bank to over 50,000 individuals and some 400 companies.

- Three of the companies that reportedly benefited are subsidiaries of PetroVietnam.

- Vietnam's central bank had to take over the lender when it was written off in 2015 after recording losses worth $445 million.

Corruption in Vietnam

PetroVietnam has been hit by a series of corruption scandals in recent years. The former head of the firm's construction subsidiary, Trinh Xuan Thanh, was allegedly seized in July by Vietnamese authorities in Berlin, where he had been seeking asylum. 

The German government has accused Vietnamese officials of kidnapping Thanh, while Vietnam maintains that he returned home to turn himself in. He faces charges of embezzling 150 million dollars last year as part of a separate probe.

Vietnam ranks 113 out of 176 on Transparency International's 2016 corruption index. The government, viewing this as a major hindrance to its economic growth, has cracked down on corruption cases, raising prison terms and even sentencing several executives to death.

dm/rt (AP, AFP, dpa)