Germany turns up the heat over alleged abduction

Trinh Xuan Thanh was sentenced to two life terms on charges of embezzlement and economic mismanagement.

Germany is continuing to step up pressure on Vietnam nearly eight months after a fugitive Vietnamese official was abducted from a park in Berlin.

The Attorney-General’s office said it had begun an investigation into the deputy head of Vietnamese intelligence, Duong Minh Hung, who it believes came to Berlin to direct the operation.

The move takes Germany’s response to a new political level and dashes any hopes in the Vietnamese leadership that the dispute would quickly blow over.

Germany expelled two Vietnamese diplomats last year and put relations between the two countries into the deep freeze.

It is now threatening to challenge the Vietnamese government directly, with a potential indictment against one of its top security officials.

Personal supervision

The former head of the construction arm of Vietnam’s state oil company, Trinh Xuan Thanh, and a female companion, were seen being forced into a vehicle in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park last July.

A wan looking Thanh appeared on state television in Hanoi a week later, saying that he had returned home voluntarily to face justice. He had disappeared from Berlin the day before he was due to apply formally for political asylum.

German newspapers report that Hung, the deputy head of the Vietnamese secret service, had come to Berlin the week before the abduction to supervise the operation personally.

They said he had used a hotel, the Sylter Hof, as a command centre and had exchanged hundreds of text messages and phone calls with others involved in the crime.

The newspapers reported that Thanh was taken to the Vietnamese embassy in Berlin after being seized. The authorities have yet to determine how he was taken out of the country and brought to Hanoi.

“Scandalous violation”

Last week, prosecutors brought charges against a more lowly suspect, a 47-year-old man identified only as Long N H, who is accused of driving the vehicle used in the abduction and other logistical support.

A resident of the Czech capital, Prague, Long is accused of working for a foreign intelligence agency and aiding in an abduction.

Germany described the alleged abduction last year as a “scandalous violation” of its sovereignty.

Its steady and methodical investigation of the operation is proving deeply embarrassing for Vietnam, which has tended in recent years to act cautiously in its dealings with the outside world.

The resurgent general-secretary of the Communist party, Nguyen Phu Trong, has made clear that his priority is cracking down on corruption. He personally guaranteed that Trinh Xuan Thanh would be captured in the weeks leading up to the alleged abduction.