A Communist party purge directed at senior public security and intelligence officials appears to be reaching its climax, with a secret trial of former agents in Hanoi and the dismissal and demotion of their alleged collaborators.
The police threw a tight security cordon around the court as the closed trial got underway of Phan Van Anh Vu, a former intelligence officer and property developer from Danang.
He is accused of deliberately leaking state secrets, but no other details of the case against him were made public by the court or state media.
Vu made a dramatic flight for freedom last December, only to be arrested in Singapore and deported back to Vietnam to face prosecution.
He had requested asylum in Germany. Unconfirmed reports said he had been prepared to supply information to the German authorities about the abduction in Berlin the previous July of another fugitive, Trinh Xuan Thanh. Thanh was subsequently sentenced to two life terms on corruption charges and is the subject of an ongoing feud between the German and Vietnamese authorities, with the latter continuing to deny any role in the abduction.
Illegal land sales
The drastic steps taken by the Vietnamese leadership to secure the return of Thanh and Vu have underlined the importance of their cases and the personal involvement of the Communist party General-Secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, who has been leading an anti-corruption drive since his reappointment in 2016.
Also on trial with Vu is the former deputy director of public security, Phan Huu Tuan, and another security official, Nguyen Huu Bach.
They were arrested in April amid a wider purge against officials from Danang alleged to have been involved in illegal land sales, and who were reported to have had links with Vu, who made his name doing land deals in the central city.
State prosecutors and Communist party officials have done nothing to explain the nexus of ties between property developers and city officials in Danang and top security and intelligence officials.
The absence of information has fuelled suspicion that the leadership is rooting out a powerful patronage network within the party which is seen as a potential threat by Nguyen Phu Trong and his supporters.
Mr Trong personally presided over a Politburo meeting at the weekend which upheld allegations against two other officials, a current and former deputy minister of public security.
They were dismissed from all party posts and demoted from other ranks, an internal step that often precedes prosecution by state authorities.
Lieutenant General Bui Van Thanh was accused of a raft of vaguely defined ideological crimes, including “violations of democratic centralism”, as well as illegal land sales.
The nub came further down the charge sheet when he was accused of signing off on a decision to allow Vu to travel overseas and had requested a diplomatic passport for him.
He and the other dismissed official, Lt. Gen. Tran Viet Tan, were also accused of violating regulations on protecting state secrets.
No further details were given amid signs that the leadership is attempting a major purge and prosecution of top security officials without giving any indication to the public about the nature of the links between the accused officials and their intentions.