No escape: runaway agent returned to Hanoi

Happier days, Vu at work on his property empire in Danang in 2016. Photo courtesy AFP.

A fugitive Vietnamese property developer and intelligence agent has been arrested in Hanoi following a desperate bid for freedom that ended with his arrest in Singapore.

Officials in Singapore said that Phan Van Anh Vu had been deported for using a fake passport.

He faces a possible death penalty in Vietnam if convicted on a charge of leaking state secrets.

Vu’s flight from Vietnam at the end of last year, and his later appeal for sanctuary in Germany, has fuelled reports of an escalating feud in the Communist party leadership.

He is reported to have had links with the former Communist party boss of Danang, Nguyen Xuan Anh, who was dismissed from his posts last October.

Vu’s other role, as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the internal security service, has also raised questions about the stance of President Tran Dai Quang, a former head of state security who is seen as a potential rival to the current party leadership.

Severe damage

Some reports suggest that Vu had detailed knowledge of the abduction in Berlin last year of the fugitive oil industry official, Trinh Xuan Thanh: information that could severely embarrass the Communist party General-Secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, who has staked his reputation on hunting down and prosecuting corrupt officials.

The incident has inflicted severe damage on relations between Hanoi and its largest European trading partner.

Vietnam insists that Thanh returned to Hanoi voluntarily, but Germany says he was kidnapped by Vietnamese agents.

Thanh is one of more than 20 former officials of the state oil giant, PetroVietnam, facing corruption charges, amongst them a former rising star in the politburo and possible leadership challenger, Dinh La Thang.

Vu’s lawyers in Singapore said their client was deported despite their appeal to the Supreme Court that he be given a chance to contest the allegations against him.

Singapore has no extradition treaty with Vietnam but was always considered likely to comply with the wishes of a fellow ASEAN member.

Mr Vu was arrested last week as he attempted to cross into neighbouring Malaysia. He was accused of entering Singapore on a passport that did not bear his real name. Immigration officials said he was carrying three passports.

His attempt to seek sanctuary in Germany appeared a last-ditch throw of the dice, as German law requires asylum seekers to be already in the country.