Vietnam sentences real estate magnate to death in its biggest fraud case: NPR

Businesswoman Truong My Lan, front center, attends a hearing Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

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Businesswoman Truong My Lan, front center, attends a hearing Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Than Tung/AP

HANOI, Vietnam – A court in southern Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday sentenced real estate magnate Truong My Lan to death in the country's biggest financial fraud case, state media Vietnam Net reported.

The 67-year-old head of real estate firm Van Thinh Phat was formally charged with embezzling $12.5 billion — nearly 3% of the country's 2022 GDP.

Lan illegally controlled the Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank between 2012 and 2022 and sanctioned 2,500 loans, resulting in $27 billion in losses for the bank, according to state media VnExpress. The court asked her to pay the bank $26.9 million in damages.

Despite the mitigating circumstances – this was the first time the crime and Lan participated in charitable activities – the court attributed its harsh sentence to the seriousness of the case, Lan leading a planned and sophisticated criminal enterprise that had serious consequences. It is possible that the money will be recovered, VnExpress said.

His actions “not only violate the property management rights of individuals and companies, but also put SCB (Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank) under special control; undermine people's trust in the leadership of the party and the state,” VnExpress quoted the ruling as saying. to say

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Her daughter-in-law, Truong Hieu Van, the chief executive of Van Dinh Phat, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for aiding her aunt, and Lan's husband, Eric Chu Nap-ki, from Hong Kong, was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Lan and his family founded Van Thing Bot in 1992, when Vietnam was abandoning its state-run economy in favor of a market-oriented approach open to foreigners. She started helping her mother, a Chinese entrepreneur, sell cosmetics in an ancient market in Ho Chi Minh City, state media Tien Phong reported.

With projects including luxury residential buildings, offices, hotels and shopping centers, Van Thinh Phat will grow into one of Vietnam's richest real estate companies. This made him a key player in the country's financial sector. He arranged for the 2011 merger of the stricken SCB Bank with two other lenders in coordination with Vietnam's central bank.

The court found that he used this approach for SCB money. He allegedly owned more than 90% of the bank — a charge he denies — and sanctioned thousands of loans to “ghost companies,” according to government documents. These loans were returned to her, state media VnExpress reported, citing the court's findings.

He then bribed officials to cover his tracks.

Former central bank official Do Thee Nan was also sentenced to life in prison on Thursday for accepting $5.2 million in bribes.

Lan's arrest in October 2022 was one of the most high-profile actions in Vietnam's ongoing anti-corruption drive that has intensified since 2022. The so-called Blazing Furnace campaign has reached the highest levels of Vietnamese politics. Former President Vo Van Tuong stepped down in March due to his involvement in the campaign.

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But Lan's trial shocked the nation. The scale of the fraud has raised questions about whether other banks or businesses have made similar mistakes, dampening Vietnam's economic outlook and shaking foreign investors as Vietnam tries to position itself as a top destination for businesses trying to diversify their supply chain. Chains away from China.

The real estate sector in Vietnam has been particularly hard hit. An estimated 1,300 property companies are off the market by 2023, with developers offering discounts and gold as prizes to lure buyers, and despite rents for mixed-use properties known as shophouses accounting for a third of Southeast Asia's Ho Chi Minh City, many are still empty in the city center, according to state media. .

In November, Vietnam's top politician, General Secretary of the Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong, said the anti-corruption campaign “will continue for a long time”.

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