HANOI - A property magnate turned fugitive spy was jailed for the third time in Vietnam on Wednesday after a court convicted him of corruption over murky land deals that cost the state millions of dollars.
Phan Van Anh Vu was convicted as Vietnam’s communist government widens a corruption crackdown that has already seen dozens of former high-flying officials, executives and businessmen put behind bars.
The 15-year prison sentence is Vu’s third since the property magnate who moonlighted as an intelligence agent was arrested in Singapore and returned to Vietnam last year to face several corruption-related charges.
He was convicted over improper land sales in Danang and Ho Chi Minh City that generated losses for the state worth almost $50 million, according to state-controlled VNExpress.
“The sentence is too harsh. The court did not consider several factors that could have reduced the sentence,” Vu’s lawyer Nguyen Huu The Trach said, adding he would appeal.
Vu was sentenced alongside two former deputy ministers of public security, Bui Van Thanh and Tran Viet Tan, who were accused of aiding the deals or turning a blind eye to them.
Thanh got 30 months, while Tan was sentenced to 36 months in prison. Two other lower ranking security officials got five years each, Trach confirmed.
Vu told the court Thursday that he felt “humiliated” but did not admit guilt.
“I don’t think the two ex-deputy ministers are guilty,” he said, according to footage broadcast on local websites.
Vu, who was a spy in the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) before being dismissed in September 2017, was allegedly trying to flee to Europe when he was arrested in January 2018 with two passports on him — one real and one fake.
His first conviction in July saw him jailed for nine years, later reduced to eight, for leaking state secrets.
In December he was sentenced again to 17 years for pilfering more than $8 million from a bank in a share-buying scheme.
Vu’s fate shocked many in Vietnam because of his links to the powerful MPS, long believed to be untouchable.
But several other MPS-linked officials have been targeted as Hanoi makes good on a promise to clean up the graft-prone country with a campaign that observers say is politically driven.
According to Transparency International’s corruption index, Vietnam ranks 117 out of 180 countries, behind Thailand and the Philippines.