The jailing of a fugitive spy for nine years at a closed door trial in Hanoi this week has raised further questions about the Communist party’s handling of Vietnam’s latest espionage drama.
Phan Van Anh Vu made a dramatic bid for freedom last December after securing a diplomatic passport from allies in the party leadership, only to be arrested in Singapore and sent back home to face trial.
He could have faced a much heavier sentence than nine years on the charge of deliberately disclosing state secrets. The relative leniency stands in sharp contrast to recent sentences of ten years and more for some of Vietnam’s independent bloggers.
The unexplained court verdict, and the intense secrecy around the case, has fuelled suspicion in Vietnam that this was primarily a political case, with Vu finding himself on the wrong side of feuds within the leadership. He was also convicted of handling illegal property deals in Danang where he was known as a leading developer.
No details were released to the public about the nature of the state secrets he is alleged to have leaked. His foreign lawyer said that he had been prepared to supply the German authorities with information about the abduction of another senior official from Berlin last year, a case that has severely embarrassed the General-Secretary of the Communist party, Nguyen Phu Trong.
Limited coverage in state media and the closure of the trial to journalists and diplomats suggests the leadership is anxious to brush the latest espionage imbroglio under the carpet as quickly as possible.
Two former state security officials were jailed alongside Vu on similar charges, receiving terms of seven and six years imprisonment.
Former directors of public security have also been dismissed and disgraced for allegedly helping Vu to flee the country.
The case heaps further embarrassment on a state security apparatus already exposed by the German authorities for its alleged role in last July’s Berlin kidnap.
A court in Berlin heard that a top Vietnamese intelligence official went to the German capital to personally supervise the abduction of former oil company executive, Trinh Xuan Thanh – a case that has severely strained ties with Germany.