SINGAPORE/BERLIN (Reuters) - A Vietnamese tycoon detained in Singapore is seeking passage to Germany to avoid being sent back home where he could face the death penalty, his lawyers said on Tuesday.
Phan Van Anh Vu, 42, who media say is wanted in Vietnam for revealing state secrets, was detained in Singapore on Thursday as he tried to leave for Malaysia, said Remy Choo, one of at least three lawyers engaged by Vu’s family to represent him.
Vu’s lawyer in Germany said that he was a senior officer in Vietnam’s secret police as well as a property developer.
His case adds a new international dimension to a Vietnamese corruption crackdown that has brought the arrest of dozens of officials and business figures and is entangled with political intrigues in the single-party communist state.
One of Vu’s lawyers said his rank in the secret service meant he could give details of an operation in which Germany says a Vietnamese oil executive was kidnapped in a Berlin park last summer and bundled home to face trial.
Vietnamese media quoted police as saying Vu was wanted for revealing state secrets. They did not say what these related to or whether that was linked to his role as a property developer.
German lawyer Victor Pfaff, told Reuters that as a senior employee in Vietnam’s secret police Vu would have known about the disappearance of Trinh Xuan Thanh from Berlin. He is facing corruption-related charges in Vietnam and potentially the death penalty.
Pfaff said it was “a matter of life and death” for Vu as well and he had filed an application to German authorities to allow the embassy in Singapore issue him a visa allowing him to travel to Germany.
“I have made an application for Germany to accept him,” said Pfaff, adding that this was not an asylum application but rather made use of rules that allow a foreign national to enter the country “to protect German interests”.
It is not possible to apply for asylum from abroad.
Germany’s foreign office declined to comment.
Singapore has no extradition treaty with Vietnam, but its immigration authority has the power to repatriate people under certain circumstances, according to the city-state’s Immigration Act.
“My client’s family is concerned there is an imminent risk of repatriation to Vietnam,” said Choo.
Choo and another lawyer in Singapore, Foo Chow Ming, said they had been unable to contact Vu, and on Tuesday filed an application in Singapore’s High Court to try to gain access to their client.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security said last month it was seeking the arrest of Vu, a developer in the communist state’s central city of Danang, where the local leadership was shaken up after corruption accusations last year.
A spokesperson for Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said Vu was arrested on Dec. 28 ”for committing offences under the Immigration Act”.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Vu’s detention in Singapore and whether Hanoi had sought his extradition.
Serious security offences, such as revealing state secrets, can carry the death penalty in Vietnam. Singapore also has the death penalty for some crimes.
Singapore has close diplomatic and trade ties to Vietnam. This year, Singapore is also chairing the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations grouping, which has sought to strengthen regional cooperation.
Dozens of Vietnamese officials and business figures have been arrested in a crackdown on corruption that has gathered pace since the security establishment gained greater sway in the ruling Communist Party in 2016.
Reporting by John Geddie and Madeline Chambers Additional reporting by Matthew Tostevin Editing by Paul Tait/Nick Macfie/Jeremy Gaunt