Former top executives at Vietnam's scandal-hit national shipping company Vinalines, whose huge debts shook investor confidence in the communist nation, went on trial Thursday for embezzlement and defying state regulations, AFP reports.
The state-owned company nearly collapsed under some $3 billion of debt, according to official media, one of several high profile scandals among huge national firms, which are a key pillar of the country's economy.
Former Vinalines chairman Duong Chi Dung, who fled the country to avoid prosecution but has since been apprehended, appeared at the Hanoi People's Court Thursday with nine other officials, accused of causing losses of some 366 billion dong ($17.4 million) to the state budget.
Four of them, including Dung, could face the death penalty on charges of embezzlement over the procurement of an old, broken Japanese floating dock, according to court president Ngo Thi Anh.
The dock then racked up enormous repair and maintenance bills, the prosecutor said.
Last month, a former banker and his business associate were sentenced to death for embezzling $25 million in a high-profile case that highlighted Vietnam's efforts to show it is stamping out graft in the face of widespread public anger over the issue.
The trial is scheduled to last three days.
Dung, 56, fled after the scandal broke in May 2012 when Vinalines defaulted on loans worth more than $1.1 billion.
He was arrested in September last year in an unidentified country after three months on the run.
Vietnam is ranked as one of the world's most corrupt nations and graft is a top concern for many ordinary people.
Graft, mismanagement and huge debts at state-run companies are seen as fuelling the country's economic woes.
In a bid to placate an increasingly disgruntled public, Vietnam's authoritarian rulers have announced a number of major corruption trials.
The Vinalines trial follows the sentencing last year of nine former top executives at scandal-tainted state shipbuilder Vinashin, who were handed lengthy jail terms on similar charges.
Concerns over state-owned firms were first triggered by Vinashin's near-collapse in 2010 under billions of dollars of debt.
Some of its loss-making sea transport projects were transferred to Vinalines, though experts warned the shipping company was ill-prepared to manage them.