German court jails Vietnamese man for helping kidnap ex-executive

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court jailed a Vietnamese man on Wednesday for helping his country’s secret services to kidnap a former oil executive from a Berlin street last year and smuggle him back to Vietnam.

FILE PHOTO: An image of Vietnamese former oil executive Trinh Xuan Thanh is seen on a TV screen on state-run television VTV, August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kham/File Photo

The man, identified by German authorities as Long N.H., had last week confessed to the court that he had taken part in the Cold War-style abduction of former executive Trinh Xuan Thanh who has since been jailed for life in Vietnam.

The Berlin court sentenced Long N.H. to three years and 10 months in jail.

The case of Thanh, a former high flyer accused of causing losses and mismanagement at PetroVietnam Construction JSC, was part of a government anti-corruption drive. This has involved more than 100 people, many from state-owned enterprises, being prosecuted, jailed and in some cases given death sentences.

Thanh had sought asylum in Germany and his disappearance, along with a female companion, in broad daylight soured bilateral relations and prompted the foreign ministry to accuse Vietnam of breaching international law.

A court spokeswoman said the judges were convinced that the accused was part of a large Vietnamese intelligence operation and that the case represented “unprecedented meddling into Germany’s sovereignty”.

“The head of the court said this was a sophisticated secret service operation in which members of the embassy in Berlin were involved,” spokeswoman Lisa Jani told Reuters Television.

The court found that Long N.H., who also has Czech citizenship, rented two vehicles, one to observe the victims and the other to use in the kidnapping. He later drove both vehicles back to Prague where he had hired them.

During the Cold War, Communist East German agents kidnapped a number of people on the streets of what was then West Berlin, sometimes bundling individuals into cars and whisking them off.

Jani also said the court had found that Slovakia played a role in taking the kidnap victim to Vietnam as a Slovak government plane had been involved, but that it was unclear if the country was a direct or willing participant.

Charged with taking part in secret service activity and helping to abduct the Thanh, Long N.H. had originally faced seven and a half years behind bars if convicted. However, due to his confession which was part of a deal, prosecutors sought four years in prison.

He has a right to appeal the verdict but is being held in custody.

Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Michelle Martin and David Stamp