Vietnam News

Vietnam property tycoon on trial in $12.5 billion fraud case

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A top Vietnamese property tycoon went on trial Tuesday along with dozens of others, accused of embezzling $12.5 billion in the country’s biggest ever fraud case.

Truong My Lan, chair of major developer Van Thinh Phat, is said to have swindled the cash from Saigon Commercial Bank (SCB) over the course of a decade, leaving unsuspecting investors out of pocket.

Eighty-five others are also on trial in southern business hub Ho Chi Minh City, including former central bankers, former government officials and ex-SCB executives — among them two Chinese nationals still at large, state media said.

They face charges including bribery, abuse of power, appropriation and violations of banking law.

State media on Tuesday showed pictures of dozens of vans carrying the defendants to the court where heavy security was on guard inside and out.

A total of 78 defendants were in court, with eight on the run, state media said. Police have issued international arrest warrants for the fugitives.

– Rare protests –

Police have identified around 42,000 victims of the scandal, which has shocked the country and led hundreds to stage protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City — a rarity in the one-party communist state.

Lan, who is married to a wealthy Hong Kong businessman, is accused of setting up fake loan applications to withdraw money from SCB, in which she owned a 90 percent 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 in October 2022.

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

Authorities have said that the $5.2 million allegedly given by Lan and some SCB bankers to state officials to conceal SCB’s violations and poor financial situation was the biggest ever bribery sum recorded in Vietnam.

According to Ho Chi Minh City’s Law newspaper, 10 prosecutors and nearly 200 lawyers will attend the trial, while other state media reported that the court had been set up to make room for nearly 3,000 people with an interest in the case.

Documents weighing up to six tonnes will be handled in the almost two-month long trial, the longest ever in Vietnam.

The arrests came as part of a national corruption crackdown that has swept up many officials and members of the country’s business elite in recent years. 

More than 4,400 people have been indicted across more than 1,700 graft cases since 2021.

Other top business leaders targeted in the anti-corruption drive — and accused of massive fraud — include Truong Quy Thanh, the head of soft drink giant Tan Hiep Phat Group.

He is to be prosecuted along with his two daughters for allegedly appropriating $31.5 million. 

Do Anh Dung, chairman of developer Tan Hoang Minh Group, will also face trial for illegally acquiring $355 million in a bond sale to more than 6,500 investors.

Agence France Presse – March 5, 2024

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