Vietnam ‘kidnap’ sours bilateral ties 

Hanoi, guarded motorcycle parking

Vietnam’s market is growing fast. Picture credit: Flickr

Controversy continues to swirl around the case of the Vietnamese executive that the German authorities say was kidnapped in Berlin only to reemerge on Vietnamese state television. 

Germany is Vietnam’s largest EU trading partner and Berlin is considering approval of a free-trade deal with one of Asean’s fastest-growing markets.

Germany said the 51-year-old former PetroVietnam Construction Company (PVC) boss was abducted by Vietnamese agents in a Cold War-style heist and it publicly condemned the operation.

Trinh Xuan Thanh told state television that he had decided to “return home” to address financial charges.

“During my time as a fugitive, I realised [my actions were] wrong. I did not think carefully. I realised that I had to return to face the truth, to admit my mistakes. My family encouraged me a lot,” the former asylum seeker said.

German exporters have been harmed in recent years by politically imposed measures on states like Russia and Turkey.

Germany said last week that Thanh had been taken from Berlin back to Vietnam against his will.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel reacted with anger, raising questions of whether deepening trading relations would be affected.

“[Thanh] was taken out of Germany using methods which we believe one sees in thriller films about the Cold War. And this is something that we cannot accept,” Gabriel told the German media.

He said Germany was considering punitive measures against Vietnam but did not give details.

The foreign minister said Germany had expelled an intelligence officer at the embassy in Berlin.

“We demanded that he leave because we strongly believe he is a person who was involved in kidnapping,” Gabriel said.

The Vietnamese ambassador was summoned to meet the state secretary of foreign affairs office, Markus Ederer.

“The abduction of Vietnamese citizen Trinh Xuan Thanh on German territory is an unprecedented and blatant violation of German and international law,” a Foreign Office statement said.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry then denied the accusations.

“Vietnam very much respects and wants to develop the strategic partnership between Vietnam and Germany,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang the media in Hanoi.

The communist authorities claim Thanh “gave himself up” to the Investigation Security Agency out of anxiety over the crimes he committed.

Thanh is a former state oil executive accused of “alleged violations of state regulations on economic management” which resulted in reported losses of around US$142 million for PVC.

“I was most responsible for the financial losses of PetroVietnam Construction Company. Out of such fear, I decided to stay in Germany. I was tired of that fugitive life,” he reportedly told VTV.