This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The German government has warned Vietnam of “serious diplomatic consequences” should Hanoi attempt to abduct Nguyen Thi Thanh Nhan, the former chairwoman and general director of Advanced International Joint Stock Company – known as AIC.
Nhan, who fled to Germany to avoid Vietnamese authorities, had been accused of masterminding bid-rigging to win 16 contracts to supply medical equipment to several Vietnamese hospitals. In January, the court found her guilty and sentenced her to 30 years in prison.
Berlin has refused an extradition request for Nhan.
Berlin-based freelance journalist Hieu Ba Linh told Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese Service that according to reports published in the German daily newspaper Taz, the German Federal Foreign Office told Hanoi that “The Federal government of Germany will not tolerate any foreign countries’ interferences in German territory.”
The warning to Hanoi alluded to an incident in 2017, when Vietnamese agents kidnapped Vietnamese oil executive Trinh Xuan Thanh from German territory, after he fled there to avoid charges of “deliberately violating State regulations, causing serious consequences” the previous year.
Following Thanh’s kidnapping, Germany expelled two diplomats from the Vietnamese Embassy in Germany. Their bilateral strategic partnership was frozen temporarily.
Linh said that should Nhan also be kidnapped, Hanoi could expect much more serious consequences.
“If the abduction of Ms. Nhan happens, Germany will certainly deport the Vietnamese Ambassador,” he said. “Furthermore, the bilateral diplomatic ties will be frozen again.”
According to Linh, since the abduction of Trinh Xuan Thanh, Vietnamese secret agents have not been able to act as freely as before because they are now subject to increased vigilance from German police and security agencies.
In addition, Germany canceled an agreement on visa exemption for diplomatic passport holders, making it difficult for Vietnamese secret agents to enter Germany.
However, there are still many Vietnamese agents in Germany, Le Trung Khoa, a journalist that edits the Germany-based Thoibao.de online Vietnamese-language news website, told RFA.
The Taz report included a profile of Nhan, 54, who has become well known internationally. She acquired two honorable doctorate degrees from a Russian educational institution and has received the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun medal from the Japanese government. She was also said to have a close connection with the Israeli government.
Nhan also played an important role for Vietnam’s military, having negotiated on behalf of Hanoi to purchase arms from many different countries.
She had been recognized by the Vietnamese government for her outstanding entrepreneurship, receiving honors as Young Vietnamese of he Year, and receiving the Red Star Award. Her company was also recognized as the Vietnamese Enterprise of the Year, and Most Outstanding National Brand.
But Nhan found herself at odds with the law when she was accused of bribing hospitals and violating bidding regulations.
The Taz report said Nhan and seven of her staff fled from Vietnam before being prosecuted and she has been living in a large German city for the past several months.
Though the German government did not directly respond to Taz’s queries on Nhan’s case, the publication’s own investigations indicate that several German agencies are busy with the case, Linh said.
“Specifically, Vietnam sent Germany a request to extradite Ms. Nhan but the German Federal Ministry and Department of Justice rejected the request,” Linh said.
“The department has confirmed there was a request by the Vietnamese government to extradite Ms. Nhan,” he said. “They clearly explained that since the abduction of Trinh Xuan Thanh in 2017, all requests to extradite criminals to Vietnam have been rejected.”
RFA emailed the German Embassy in Vietnam and the Federal Foreign Office, as well as the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment but did not receive immediate responses.
The Vietnamese Embassy in Berlin has been actively searching for information about Nhan, Khoa said.
“Ms. Nhan is very important for unlocking many high-profile cases in Vietnam as well as arms deals concerning leading Vietnamese officials,” said Khoa. “As a result, Vietnam will try to bring her back by any means. Her importance is many times higher than the previous case of Mr. Trinh Xuan Thanh.”
Though Vietnamese state media reports that Nhan is wanted for bid-rigging, Taz reported, citing Israeli media, that the search for Nhan is a result of infighting within the Vietnamese government regarding weapons procurement, as she was the broker of several arms deals between Vietnam and Israel.
Israel has been an important arms supplier to Vietnam, providing drones, air defense systems, tanks and missiles.