Vietnamese politburo official fired in public purge


(ft.com)Ho Chi Minh party boss accused of serious violations while head of state energy group

© AFP

Vietnam’s Communist party has sacked a top politburo official in an unusually public purge that will be closely watched for any wider impact on politics and business in the fast-growing state.

Dinh La Thang, the ruling party’s chief in Ho Chi Minh City, has been dismissed over alleged “serious violations” between 2009 and 2011 during his chairmanship of PetroVietnam, the state energy company, government media said.

Until the purge, Mr Dinh was considered a rising star in the party, operating at the nexus of government and state-owned enterprise. He could not be reached for comment.

The sudden dismissal and swirl of questions surrounding it highlight how opaque official decision-making is under Vietnam’s one-party rule.

International investors have started to return to the country of more than 90m people as economic growth has ticked up after a period in the doldrums, but concerns remain about the government’s management of state-owned industries and the financial sector.

Mr Dinh, 57, was dismissed because he signed a deal to buy a stake in Ocean Bank without approval from PetroVietnam’s board of directors, the government online newspaper said.

Ocean Bank’s founder and former chairman was arrested in 2014 on suspicion of financial irregularities in one of several scandals among the country’s financial institutions. It is unclear what has happened to his case since.

Mr Dinh is also accused of authorising bidding packages that broke government rules. Authorities have investigated several other PetroVietnam officials over the past few years.

It is unclear whether Mr Dinh has also been ousted from his powerful position as party chief in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. He was unusually outspoken for a Communist official, once calling on Vinamilk, the big dairy company, to help farmers.

Mr Dinh has close ties to US investment bank Morgan Stanley.

PetroVietnam’s finance company had a strategic partnership with Morgan Stanley during the period in which Mr Dinh is accused of the violations. The US bank also employed Dinh Huong Ly, Mr Dinh’s daughter, from 2006 to 2013. No allegations of wrongdoing have been made against the US investment bank or Ms Dinh.

Mr Dinh oversaw the 2007 sale of a 10 per cent stake in PetroVietnam Finance Corp to Morgan Stanley for $217m. Many foreign investors were tempted to Vietnam by a wide-ranging programme to privatise government assets, although this has unfolded only slowly since.

Morgan Stanley also acted, along with Citigroup, as an adviser on the initial public offering of Vietnam Airlines, the state-owned flag carrier. The process was ultimately overseen by Mr Dinh, who was transport minister from 2011 until 2016.

Mr Dinh’s Ho Chi Minh City administration received a proposal in 2016 from a US company to install a smart traffic system, backed by a $300m loan from Morgan Stanley, according to Vietnamese state media reports.

Mr Dinh’s daughter, who also goes by the name Ly Dinh, began working for Morgan Stanley in 2006, serving in Vietnam as a vice-president from 2009, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Morgan Stanley declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Khac Giang Nguyen

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