Vietnam arrests former chairman of Mobifone and ministry official

HANOI (Reuters) – Police in Vietnam on Tuesday arrested a former chairman of one of the country’s largest mobile carriers and a senior official of the Ministry of Information and Communications on allegations of economic mismanagement, as the communist-led government widens a crackdown on corruption.

Le Nam Tra, former chairman of state-owned Mobifone Corp. and Pham Dinh Trong, head of the ministry’s enterprise management department, were accused of “violating regulations on state capital management and usage, causing serious consequences,” the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement.

The arrests of Tra and Trong came after the government accused Mobifone of overpaying for a 95 percent stake in a loss-making private pay TV provider, causing losses to the state budget.

Mobifone Corp., one of Vietnam’s three largest mobile carriers by subscription, bought the stake in Audio Visual Global JSC (AVG) for nearly 8.9 trillion dong ($386.30 million) in late 2015.

A plan to sell a stake in Mobifone has been touted as one of the most anticipated in Vietnam’s privatization drive, but has never materialized.

The government earlier this year said AVG was making losses at the time of the purchase, with accumulated losses standing at 1.63 trillion dong ($70.75 million) as of March 31, 2015.

The government said in a separate statement earlier this year that it plans to sell a stake in Mobifone in an initial public offering in 2019, adding that Sweden’s Comviq had shown interest.

Calls to Mobifone and the Ministry of Information and Communications seeking comment went unanswered.

The Ministry of Public Security said in Tuesday’s statement it was carrying out further investigation into the case.

Tuesday’s arrests come amid a corruption crackdown in Vietnam that has seen several senior government officials and executives of state-owned enterprises arrested and jailed.

Earlier this year, Vietnam jailed former Politburo member Dinh La Thang for 31 years for financial irregularities at PetroVietnam, formally known as Vietnam Oil and Gas Group.

Thang, 57, who denied any wrongdoing at his trial, was the highest-level politician to have been jailed in Vietnam for decades.

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