SINGAPORE/HANOI (Reuters) - A fugitive Vietnamese property tycoon who is accused of spilling state secrets was arrested in Hanoi on Thursday after Singapore deported him, despite appeals that his life could be in danger in Vietnam.
Phan Van Anh Vu, 42, told his lawyers he was also a senior officer in Vietnam’s secret police and was trying to get to Germany and could have details of an operation in which a wanted Vietnamese oil executive was spirited home from Berlin last year.
Vu’s case put a new international spotlight on a sweeping crackdown on corruption in the communist state, where graft has flourished alongside years of rapid economic growth that have made it a prime destination for investors.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security said on its website that Vu was arrested in Hanoi after being deported from Singapore and that it would “investigate according to Vietnamese law”.
Vu had been detained in Singapore on Dec. 28 as he tried to leave for neighboring Malaysia. Singapore authorities said he had entered the country on a passport with a false identity while carrying another Vietnamese passport with his real identity and also had a third passport in his possession.
Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said Vu was wanted under an Interpol “Red Notice” issued by Vietnam and had been removed by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.
A lawyer for Vu in Singapore said he was only informed about the deportation nearly three hours after Vu had been flown out.
“I am disappointed that, despite our best efforts for our client, he was deported without our knowledge or given an opportunity to contest the allegations made against him,” Remy Choo told Reuters.
Singapore has close diplomatic and trade ties to Vietnam and both share a concern at China’s growing regional influence. This year, Singapore is also chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations grouping that aims to boost regional cooperation.
“Speed has been the enemy of both transparency and justice in this case,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“Singapore deserves utter condemnation for forcing him back to face what will certainly be a kangaroo court trial, and quite possibly a death sentence.”
Serious security offences can carry the death penalty in Vietnam although that also depends on the motivation and the degree of damage caused. Vietnamese police have not said which secrets Vu is accused of revealing.
Police published a wanted notice for Vu on Dec. 21 after failing to find him at his home in the central resort city of Danang, where he had been nicknamed “Aluminium Vu” for his background making window and door frames.
For years, he had been a prominent business figure in the city with public connections to authorities, among them the head of its communist party, who was fired in October for misconduct.
Dozens of officials and business people have been arrested in a crackdown on corruption that gathered pace last year after changes at the top of the communist party gave greater sway to the security establishment.
The fight against corruption is broadly welcomed in Vietnam, but government critics say they believe it is also being used to undermine officials linked to the administration of former prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
The crackdown drew global attention last summer when Germany accused Vietnam of kidnapping former oil executive Trinh Xuan Thanh from a Berlin park.
Vu’s German lawyer, Victor Pfaff, told Reuters that as a senior employee in Vietnam’s secret police Vu would have known about the disappearance of Thanh and that he had important information about the case.
German officials did not comment on Vu’s case.
Reporting by John Geddie in SINGAPORE and Mi Nguyen in HANOI; Editing by Clarence Fernandez