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Vietnam denies returning jailed oil executive to Germany

“Trinh Xuan Thanh violated Vietnamese laws, was brought to trial publicly in accordance with Vietnamese legal regulations and is serving his sentence,” Le Thi Thu Hang said at a press conference Thursday.

Thanh, 51, was chairman of state oil giant PetroVietnam’s construction subsidiary PVC from 2009 to 2013, and then held other senior government positions like deputy chief of staff at the Ministry of Industry and Trade and deputy chairman of the southern province of Hau Giang.

The Ministry of Public Security issued an international arrest warrant against him in September 2016 after police began a criminal investigation of him for violations he had committed during his time at PVC and discovered he had fled to Germany.

On August 3 last year he appeared on national television claiming he hadn’t been thinking clearly when running overseas, and he had to return to “face the truth” and “admit [his] wrongdoing.”

Vietnam Television also showed what appeared to be Thanh’s handwritten “confession letter” dated July 31, 2017, the day the Ministry of Public Security announced he had turned himself in after a 10-month international manhunt. The ministry however did not reveal how he had returned to Vietnam.

Trinh Xuan Thanh: 'I returned to Vietnam and turned myself in'

“Since I was afraid and didn’t think maturely, I decided to go into hiding in Germany. During that time, my life was precarious and filled with fear. Following family and friends’ advice, I returned to Vietnam and turned myself in to investigators to be granted clemency by the [Communist] Party, the Government and the law,” the letter read.

Meanwhile, international news agencies quoted the German Foreign Ministry as saying, “There is no serious doubt about the participation of the Vietnamese intelligence service and embassy in the kidnapping of [Trinh Xuan Thanh] on German soil.”

Berlin subsequently summoned the Vietnamese ambassador, ordered a Vietnamese officer at the embassy to leave Germany within 48 hours and demanded that Thanh be allowed to travel back to Germany so that “his asylum application and a Vietnamese request for his extradition could be examined in full.”

At a press briefing, held a day after Germany’s foreign ministry criticized Vietnam for “unprecedented” breach of German and international law over what it called the abduction of Thanh, Hang had said Vietnam “regretted” to learn about the accusations. 

Thanh was sentenced to two life sentences in two separate cases earlier this year for mismanagement and embezzlement, which caused losses of around VND3.2 trillion ($147 million) to the oil company.

At the press conference Thursday Hang said Vietnam always attaches great importance to consolidating and developing good relations with Germany for the benefit of the peoples of both countries, and the two sides have had many exchanges and meetings recently to promote bilateral relations.

Vietnam and Germany established a strategic partnership in 2011, and the latter is currently Vietnam’s biggest trade partner in the EU.