Vietnam’s National Assembly has voted to dismiss two deputy prime ministers from their posts, a government statement said, in what analysts believe is a new escalation in an anti-corruption crackdown.
There was no explanation of parliament’s decision to remove Pham Binh Minh and Vu Duc Dam on Thursday but the move comes at a time when the Communist-ruled country is intensifying its fight against corruption, despite concerns the campaign is paralysing routine transactions as officials fear being entangled in probes.
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The parliament also ratified the appointment of environment minister, Tran Hong Ha, and the party chief of Haiphong City, Tran Luu Quang, as the two new deputy prime ministers.
Minh and Dam did not respond to a request for comment. The men have not been arrested and no charges have been filed against them.
If the dismissals are linked to the anti-corruption drive, they would be the most senior officials swept up in the campaign so far.
The crackdown has already led to the arrest of a health minister as well as other top officials and diplomats. In separate probes, prominent businessmen have also been detained.
Minh, 63, served as the country’s foreign minister between 2011 and 2021, and as a deputy prime minister from 2013.
Dam, 59, who was appointed as a deputy prime minister in 2013, is widely known for his efforts to lead the Southeast Asian country’s fight against the COVID pandemic.
Carl Thayer, an expert in Vietnam’s diplomacy at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, said the dismissals may be tied to two scandals that disrupted the handling of the pandemic, notably a bribery scandal linked to flying home Vietnamese citizens who were stranded abroad and the purchase of COVID-19 test kits.
The Communist Party in late December removed Minh from the politburo, its most powerful decision-making body, and removed both Minh and Dam from the Central Party Committee.
The party last month disciplined the Minister of Foreign Affairs Bui Thanh Son over the involvement of several ministry officials and diplomats in the scandal over repatriation flights.
In a separate move, police in Vietnam on Thursday arrested a former Vietnamese ambassador to Malaysia, Tran Viet Thai, as it widened its investigation into the scandal.
Thai, who was appointed ambassador to Malaysia in 2020, is accused of “abusing power in performance of official duties,” the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement.