Vietnam property tycoon faces verdict in US$12.5b fraud case

Vietnam property tycoon faces verdict in US$12.5b fraud case
Vietnam property tycoon faces verdict in US$12.5b fraud case

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Vietnam's property tycoon Truong My Lan (centre) arrives at a court in Ho Chi Minh city March 5, 2024. — AFP pic

HANOI, April 11 — A top Vietnamese property tycoon could face the death penalty when she and dozens of other co-accused face verdicts on Thursday in one of the country’s biggest fraud cases over the embezzlement of US$12.5 billion (RM59.3 billion).

Truong My Lan, chair of major developer Van Thinh Phat, is accused of swindling the cash from Saigon Commercial Bank (SCB) over a decade.

She and 85 others face verdicts and sentencing in southern business hub Ho Chi Minh City following a five-week trial. The list of co-accused includes former central bankers, ex-government officials and previous SCB executives.

The charges they face include bribery, abuse of power, appropriation and violations of banking law.

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Lan has denied the charges and blamed subordinates.

Prosecutors have called for Lan to face the death sentence, an unusually severe punishment in such a case.

She and the 85 others were arrested as part of a national corruption crackdown that has swept up many officials and members of Vietnam’s business elite in recent years.

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Lan appeared to say in final remarks to the court last week that she had thoughts of suicide.

“In my desperation, I thought of death,” she said, according to state media.

“I am so angry that I was stupid enough to get involved in this very fierce business environment — the banking sector — which I have little knowledge of.”

Heavy police presence

Hundreds of people began to stage protests in the capital Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, a relatively rare occurrence in the one-party communist state, after Lan’s arrest in October 2022.

There was a heavy police presence outside the State Bank of Vietnam in Hanoi yesterday, a site of previous demonstrations.

Police have identified around 42,000 victims of the scandal, which has shocked the Southeast Asian country.

Lan, who is married to a wealthy Hong Kong businessman also on trial, is accused of setting up fake loan applications to withdraw money from SCB, in which she owned a 90 per cent stake.

Police say those caught up in the scam are all SCB bondholders who cannot withdraw their money and have not received interest or principal payments since Lan’s arrest.

The value of Lan’s alleged asset appropriation, which occurred between 2012 and 2022, was equivalent to around three per cent of Vietnam’s GDP in 2022.

Prosecutors said during the trial they had seized more than 1,000 properties belonging to Lan.

Authorities have also said US$5.2 million allegedly given by Lan and some SCB bankers to state officials to conceal the bank’s violations and poor financial situation was the largest bribe recorded in Vietnam.

The woman who was offered the bribe — Do Thi Nhan, the former head of the State Bank of Vietnam’s inspection team — said during the trial the cash was handed to her in Styrofoam boxes by the former CEO of SCB, Vo Tan Van.

After realising they contained money, Nhan refused the boxes but Van declined to take them back, state media reported.

More than 4,400 people have been indicted during Vietnam’s corruption crackdown, across more than 1,700 graft cases, since 2021.

A top Vietnamese luxury property tycoon — Do Anh Dung, head of the Tan Hoang Minh group — was sentenced to eight years in prison last month after he was found guilty of cheating thousands of investors in a US$355 million bond scam. — AFP

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