HANOI: A former politburo member in Vietnam was jailed for 18 years Thursday, his second graft conviction this year as part of an aggressive anti-corruption sweep targeting senior officials, bankers and businessmen.
Dinh La Thang is already serving 13 years following a corruption conviction in January and is the most senior official to be hit by an anti-graft sweep that critics say is aimed at cleaning up party ranks -- and wiping out the communist leadership's political foes.
Thang, the former head of state-run oil giant PetroVietnam (PVN), was handed 18 years in jail Thursday for "violating state regulations on economic management".
He will also have to pay $26 million in compensation to the state.
Prosecutors had argued that Thang approved a $35-million investment of state funds into Ocean Bank in 2008, without the authorisation of PVN's board, the finance ministry or the prime minister.
"Dinh La Thang knew the status of Ocean Bank was weak, he knew the requirements of Ministry of Finance, but deliberately did not follow them and still decided to inject ($35 million) of capital into Ocean Bank," according to a report by state-run Vietnam News agency.
Thang had argued during the trial that he did in fact have the greenlight from former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, according to state media.
Ocean Bank nearly collapsed after a series of missteps by its leaders -- including dozens that were convicted for fraud last year -- and Vietnam's central bank bought it for $0 in 2014.
Four other senior officials were convicted at Thursday's trial and jailed for between 22 months and 23 years behind bars, while two other officials were sentenced to re-education out of custody, where they are expected to check in with authorities and repent for their wrongdoings.
Ninh Van Quynh, former chief accountant of PVN, was sentenced to a total of 23 years in jail, including seven years for the same charge as Thang and sixteen years for abuse of power.
Observers have said that the corruption crackdown in Vietnam -- led by a conservative leadership in charge since 2016 -- is aimed at some of Dung's allies.
But the party has consistently said it is focused on punishing graft.
Another former PVN executive, Trinh Xuan Thanh who headed up the conglomerate's construction unit, was sentenced to life in prison earlier this year as part of Thang's first trial.
Thanh's case stunned Vietnam and sparked a diplomatic dust-up after he was allegedly kidnapped from a park in Berlin by undercover Vietnamese security agents.
Hanoi insists he returned home to hand himself over voluntarily, but Germany called the case a "scandalous violation" of its sovereignty and expelled two diplomats after the incident.
Vietnam's corruption sweep has captivated a country unused to seeing senior officials and business punished so publicly.
The government has vowed to root out graft at the highest ranks of business and government, and said it will also go after day-to-day corruption.
Vietnam has been ranked one of the most corrupt countries in Southeast Asia by Transparency International, which says graft permeates across multiple sectors, from health and education to construction, land management and natural resources.