Vietnam hands out death sentences in Vinalines corruption case

Hanoi court rules two national shipping company executives stole US$1.5 million

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 9:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 1:31am

Vietnam on Monday sentenced two former top executives at scandal-hit national shipping company Vinalines to death for embezzlement as authorities try to allay rising public anger over corruption.

State-owned Vinalines nearly collapsed under some US$3 billion of debt, according to official media, in one of several high profile scandals at large state-run companies that are a pillar of the economy.

Former Vinalines chairman Duong Chi Dung, who fled the country but was later apprehended, and the group’s chief executive Mai Van Phuc were given the death penalty on Monday after a three-and-half day trial.

“Dung’s behaviour caused especially serious consequences,” said court president Ngo Thi Anh.

Dung, 56, fled after the scandal broke in May last year when Vinalines defaulted on loans worth more than US$1.1 billion.

He was arrested in September last year in neighbouring Cambodia after three months on the run.

The death sentences relate to the chairman and CEO’s role in the procurement of an old, broken Japanese floating dock which then racked up enormous repair and maintenance bills.

“Going on the run showed that he (Dung) wanted to escape from his responsibilities,” the court president said, adding that he was the main driver of the embezzlement scheme that was estimated to involve more than US$1.5 million.

“All the defendants were (communist) party members but became rotten in their nature (and) need to be seriously punished before law,” Ngo Thi Anh added.

Eight other defendants, all officials at Vinalines or other state-owned entities, were given between four and 22 years in jail on charges of defying state regulations and embezzlement.

“I did not take any money. I have been wrongly charged,” Dung told the court.

He did, however, accept some responsibility for the Vinalines debt scandal, and apologised to “the party, state, national assembly, government, people and Vinalines employees”.

The trial follows the sentencing last year of nine former top executives at scandal-tainted state shipbuilder Vinashin, who were given lengthy jail terms on similar charges.

Concerns over state-owned firms were first triggered by Vinashin’s near-collapse in 2010 under billions of dollars of debt.

Some of its loss-making sea transport projects were transferred to Vinalines, though experts warned the shipping company was ill-prepared to manage them.

Vietnam is ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt nations and graft is a top concern for many ordinary people.

Corruption, mismanagement and huge debts at state-run companies are seen as fuelling the country’s economic woes.

Last month a former banker and his business associate at a large state bank were sentenced to death for embezzling US$25 million.

Vietnam does not disclose the number of executions it carries out each year, but rights group Amnesty International recorded five in 2011 and 23 new sentences handed out that year, mainly to drug traffickers.

Murder, rape and some serious financial crimes can also carry the death penalty.