Slovakia says unlikely Vietnam used its plane in ex-oil executive's kidnapping

Trinh Xuan Thanh, former executive at a state oil company PetroVietnam, is seen on a street in Berlin, Germany October 20, 2016. Picture taken October 20, 2016. Bui Thanh Hieu (Nguoi Buon Gio)/Handout via REUTERS/Files

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia's prime minister tried on Wednesday to distance his government from media reports that Vietnamese agents used a Slovak government plane to smuggle home a former oil executive they kidnapped in Germany last year.

The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported last week that Vietnam may have used a Slovak plane to transport Trinh Xuan Thanh, who Germany said was kidnapped in a Berlin park last July. The story has been picked up by Slovak news outlets.

Thanh, who had sought political asylum in Germany, was sentenced to life in prison in January for violating state regulations and embezzlement.

"I deny that Slovakia knowingly played any role in the transfer of the abducted person," Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini told reporters before leaving.

The Vietnamese ambassador would be summoned to the foreign ministry to explain the situation, Pellegrini said.

Slovakia lent a government plane to a Vietnamese delegation last year to fly to Moscow from Bratislava following a meeting between then-interior minister Robert Kalinak and Vietnam's minister of public security, To Lama. The delegation's itinerary had changed unexpectedly.

Kalinak denied Slovakia had played any role in an abduction. "No bed-bound patient or anyone restrained or handcuffed was aboard the plane," he told news website on Wednesday. The name of the abducted person was not on the passenger list, he added.

According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the car supposedly used for the abduction was parked in front of the government hotel where the Slovak-Vietnamese meeting was held three days after the abduction, according to GPS records.

Thanh, a former high flyer in Vietnam who was accused of mismanagement and causing losses at PetroVietnam Construction JSC, has been given two life sentences in Vietnam since he was brought home.

Thanh's case was part of a government anti-corruption drive, in which more than 100 people, many from state-owned enterprises, have been prosecuted, jailed and, in some cases, given death sentences.

(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova, editing by Larry King)