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Singapore holds fugitive Vietnam intelligence agent: lawyers

[SINGAPORE] A fugitive Vietnamese intelligence officer wanted in his homeland for allegedly disclosing state secrets has been arrested in Singapore, his lawyers said Tuesday.

A German lawyer has called for the detainee, Phan Van Anh Vu, to be sent to Germany, arguing that he could help the investigation into a Cold War-style kidnapping in Berlin last year.

Vu, who is also a property developer, was detained on Thursday at a Singapore border checkpoint as he attempted to cross into Malaysia.

Police in the central Vietnamese city of Da Nang said in recent days that Vu, 42, was being sought for "deliberately revealing state secrets", but gave no further details.

Singapore lawyer Remy Choo told AFP he met Vu's family, who had confirmed that "apart from being a property developer, he was also a senior officer in the Vietnamese intelligence services".

"My client's family are concerned that there is an imminent risk of repatriation," Mr Choo said, adding that Vu was seeking safe haven in a European country.

His arrest follows a year in which Vietnamese authorities jailed or arrested scores of former officials, bankers and state executives as part of a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown which some observers say is also driven by political infighting.

One of the most high-profile cases involved the alleged kidnapping of a Vietnamese former oil executive in Germany.

Trinh Xuan Thanh was snatched from a Berlin park by Vietnamese security agents in July in a Cold War-style operation that stunned many inside and outside the one-party state. It prompted Germany to decry a "scandalous violation" of its sovereignty.

Vietnamese officials insist Thanh, who will go on trial later this month, returned home voluntarily.


In Germany a lawyer representing both Vu, on a request of the detainee's wife, and Thanh's asylum request is pushing for Berlin to grant a residence permit to Vu "on grounds of international law or urgent humanitarian reasons".

A letter from the German lawyer obtained by AFP states that "Vu is a lieutenant colonel of the Vietnamese secret police in division five of the ministry of public security which is responsible for the abduction of... Trinh".

The lawyer writes that a Vietnamese arrest warrant against Vu dated December 21 accuses him of "revealing state secrets" and that, if sent home, he could face the death penalty.

In a letter to Germany's embassy in Singapore, the lawyer states that Vu "could provide German authorities with valuable information on the abduction of Mr Trinh and other matters".

Germany's foreign and interior ministries declined to comment on the matter.

Another of Vu's lawyers in Singapore, Foo Cheow Ming, confirmed his arrest. His lawyers have not yet been allowed to see him.

Singapore authorities said in a short statement only that "Phan Van Anh Vu was arrested on 28 December 2017 for committing offences under the Immigration Act".

Observers say Vietnam's anti-corruption sweep, which has echoes of a graft crackdown in Communist China, is being led by a conservative leadership in place since 2016.

Many believe it is as much about weeding out political enemies aligned with the former leadership as cracking down on graft.