ASEAN Beat | Politics | South East Asia
The removal of Pham Binh Minh comes amid a crackdown on a wide-ranging corruption scandal surrounding COVID-19 repatriation flights.
Then Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh addresses a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2015.
Credit: WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM/swiss-image.ch/Foto Valeriano DiDomenicoWerbung
Late last week, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) removed Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh from the Politburo, its top decision-making body, amid a spreading corruption scandal involving his former ministry.
Vietnamese state media reported that the VCP Central Committee voted to remove Minh along with another committee member, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam. As a result, Minh, who served as Vietnam’s foreign minister from 2011 to April 2021 and is deputy prime minister for foreign affairs and diplomacy, will also lose his position in the 18-member Politburo, which is elected from the 200 members of the Central Committee.
According to state media, the two deputy prime ministers remain.
While the body provided no public reason for the rare deportations (and state media reports certainly didn’t venture a guess), they came amid a concerted government crackdown on a series of COVID-19-related corruption scandals that have indicted dozens of middle- and high-ranking people government and party officials.
Catch up on the story of the week and develop stories to watch across Asia Pacific.
Get the newsletter
Last month, the VCP Central Inspection Committee recommended that the Politburo and Central Committee Secretariat discipline the entire foreign ministry, including current minister Bui Thanh Son, over a wide-ranging state-organized COVID-19 corruption scandal. 19 return flights.
The scandal involved officials charging Vietnamese citizens for seats on some 400 repatriation flights arranged for those stranded abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds thus raised, estimated to have exceeded $200 million, were then appropriated by corrupt officials.
So far, more than 35 people from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries have been arrested over the plan, including high-ranking officials such as former Deputy Foreign Minister To Anh Dung and former Ambassador to Japan Vu Hong Nam.
This comes months after the VCP expelled several officers for involvement in a scandal involving procurement of overpriced COVID-19 testing kits that netted those involved an estimated $172 million.
It is highly unusual for a member of the Politburo to be removed from the VCP’s five-yearly National Congress, whose next congress is not scheduled to take place until 2026. However, it remains unclear whether Minh was directly involved in any of the above scandals, the fact that his unusual removal from the Central Committee so immediately followed the recommendation of the Central Committee of Inspections suggests the two events are linked.
The purge of officials could well expand further, according to a report by the state-run Voice of Vietnam, with the newspaper claiming the country’s National Assembly is due to hold an extraordinary session in Hanoi on Thursday. It said the meeting would address “several urgent issues, including personnel.”