The dismissal of the Communist party chief in the booming coastal city of Danang has rocked Vietnam’s political establishment just weeks before the city plays host to world leaders including Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.
Nguyen Xuan Anh, who also loses his seat on the party’s Central Committee, is the latest target of an anti-corruption drive that has startled the country with its scale and ruthlessness.
Associates of the once ascendant former prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, have been prominent amongst the accused, fuelling speculation that the purge is as much about politics as corruption.
Nguyen Xuan Anh was seen as a rising star in the party hierarchy, securing his position at the head of one of Vietnam’s fastest growing cities in 2015 and his seat on the Central Committee last year.
He was dismissed for “tarnishing the party’s reputation” and sparking anger amongst his colleagues and the public.
Top of the list of accusations against him is the use of a car and two homes allegedly supplied by local businesses.
Lack of transparency
In a country where corruption by officials is rife, many will question why Anh has been singled out at this time.
The lack of transparency in the party’s internal investigative procedures, and the legal processes that sometimes follow, as well as an effective ban on media scrutiny, add nothing to the credibility of official statements.
Anh’s dismissal, just as Danang prepares to welcome foreign leaders for the APEC summit, underlines the sense of urgency with which the anti-corruption campaign is being pursued.
Much of the focus has been on officials associated with mismanagement and embezzlement at the state oil firm PetroVietnam.
Last week, a former chairman of the company, Nguyen Xuan Son, received the death sentence, and 50 other bankers and businessmen were sentenced to prison terms.
Most startling was the alleged abduction in Berlin in July of a former head of the firm’s construction arm, Trinh Xuan Thanh, who appeared a week later in Hanoi saying that he had turned himself in.
The APEC summit next month gives Vietnam a rare moment in the international spotlight.
Vietnam is likely to seek US backing for its position in the South China Sea, particularly its plans to drill for oil and gas, in the face of opposition from an ever more confident and belligerent China.
The ongoing anti-corruption drive sends a signal to the outside world that party hardliners around the general-secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, are firmly in control.