New Corruption Crackdown Begins in Hanoi
On Monday, Hanoi People’s Court began a trial with twenty-two defendants, including a former politburo member and executives of state-owned enterprise PetroVietnam. The high profile trial is the biggest corruption crackdown under the current Communist General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.
In the trial this month, former politburo member Dinh La Thang was accused of giving a contract to build a thermoelectric plant to PetroVietnam without following the appropriate bidding procedure. In Vietnam, current or former politburo members are rarely prosecuted. The last was prosecuted decades ago.
In addition to Thang, eleven more were accused of violating state regulations on economic management. Another eight were accused of embezzlement, in which death sentence is likely to be carried. Two were accused of both.
Moreover, this trial may heavily influence Vietnam’s diplomatic ties with Germany. German officials believe that Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former PetroVietnam Chairman, was sent to Vietnam from Germany against his will. Germany has expelled two Vietnamese diplomats, after saying that Vietnamese officials kidnapped Thanh from a park in Berlin. On Vietnamese state television, however, Thanh later said he had returned to Vietnam on his will. Le Hong Hiep for Institute of Southeast Asian Studies suggested the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement may be delayed due to this incident.
Phan Van Anh Vu, a business tycoon and a former member of secret police, spoke to his lawyers about his attempts to fly to Germany, and hinted he has details of the kidnapping operation. He was deported from Singapore and arrested in Hanoi after Vietnamese authorities contacted Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, saying his passport was fake.
Despite the crackdown, many locals are skeptical about eliminating corruption. The defendants are allies of former Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, who has lost an internal battle in the Vietnamese Communist Party. Thus many see this trial as politically motivated. While it was said that Dung’s family members and lieutenants had large business ties, it is questionable whether or not this trial will solve widespread corruption and prevent such wrongdoings in the future.
According to interviews conducted by Reuters, many in the Vietnamese-American community are also skeptical about the corruption crackdown. Tuyet Ngoc Dinh who lives in Louisville Kentucky said, “Fighting corruption is meaningless when you don’t have a checks and balance system.”
Vietnamese nationals witness corruption by low-level officials on a daily basis. The distrust may be an obstacle to economic growth. Trung Nguyen, international relations dean at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities suggests people are discouraged to become entrepreneurs or are motivated to do business underground.
Meanwhile, the Vietnamese government plans to accelerate privatization of state owned enterprises. Already in 2015, public firm’s assets were reduced to eighty percent of the GDP. The Ministry of Planning and Investment predicts private sectors to contribute fifty percent of the economy. In 2017, private sector contributed forty percent of the GDP. It is suggested that the government is under pressure due to its budget deficit. The trials may not prevent future corruption, however the corruption crackdown in public enterprises may become a factor in further acceleration of privatization.