August 9, 2017 12:00 pm JST

Vietnam-Germany relations sour over intrigue in Berlin

Alleged 'Cold War-style' abduction may doom trade deal with EU

ATSUSHI TOMIYAMA, Nikkei staff writer

HANOI -- The alleged kidnapping of a national of Vietnam on German soil by Vietnamese intelligence may have economic repercussions on top of the usual political ones, with Berlin vowing further action over what it deems a flagrant violation of the law.

Former PetroVietnam Construction Chairman Trinh Xuan Thanh has been in the custody of Vietnamese authorities since late July. He had been wanted by the government, which had accused him of causing $150 million in losses at the state-owned company through mismanagement.

Thanh left the country last summer, citing medical reasons, as the authorities stepped up their investigation. But he went into hiding. In an exclusive interview on state television Thursday, Thanh said he had been living in Germany and that he had turned himself in voluntarily.

The interview aired the day after the German government accused Vietnamese intelligence of abducting Thanh in Berlin. Vietnam released a vague statement of regret regarding Germany's announcement, without confirming or denying the accusation.

Reuters and other news outlets report that Berlin blamed Hanoi for an unprecedented breach of German and international law on its territory and ordered the representative of Vietnamese intelligence there to leave within 48 hours.

In a news conference, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called the abduction intolerable and said the government was considering further steps against Vietnam.

Bilateral relations are sure to take a hit from the row. And a free trade agreement between Vietnam and the European Union, whose conclusion by year-end appeared nearly assured not long ago, has been jeopardized now that the Southeast Asian nation has angered the bloc's most powerful member.

This would deal a blow to a Vietnam looking to boost exports to the EU via the trade pact after its hopes for the Trans-Pacific Partnership were dashed by the American decision to withdraw.

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