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Vietnamese tycoon gets death for $12.5bn corruption scandal

Truong My Lan amassed a fortune equivalent to 3 percent of GDP as part of the country's largest ever fraud that ‘eroded people’s trust’
Truong My Lan (center) attends the court proceedings in Ho Chi Minh City on April 11.

Truong My Lan (center) attends the court proceedings in Ho Chi Minh City on April 11.  (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 12, 2024 06:19 AM GMT
Updated: April 12, 2024 07:16 AM GMT

A court in Ho Chi Minh City has sentenced a property tycoon to death for her role in a US$12.5 billion corruption scandal, the largest in Vietnam’s history which the judge said had eroded people’s trust in the leadership of the Communist Party and the state.

Truong My Lan, chairwoman of real estate developer Van Thinh Phat Holdings Group, was found guilty of embezzlement, bribery, and violations of banking rules at the end of a trial in the southern capital and sentenced to an additional 40 years behind bars, according to state media.

The court found the 68-year-old had amassed a fortune equivalent to 3 percent of Vietnam’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) after she used her proxies to take control of the Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank (SCB) and siphoned off funds between 2012 and 2022.

Thousands of ghost companies were backed by bribes paid to government officials and used to acquire more than a thousand properties through loans provided by SCB. Lan was ordered to pay SCB $27 billion but the VnExpress said there was no possibility of recovering any of the money.

Lan’s husband, Eric Chu Nap-kee, chairman of the board of Times Square Vietnam Joint Stock Company, was sentenced to nine years in prison for violating banking regulations at his wife's direction. Her niece, Trương Huệ Vân, was jailed for 17 years for embezzlement.

The Vietnam News reported that one central bank official, three SCB senior executives, “other SCB executives and government officials,” and the chairman of Capella Group were jailed for between three years to life on convictions ranging from embezzlement to breach of trust.

A total of 84 people were convicted in the case, the Thanh Nien newspaper reported.

Lan was the only defendant who pleaded innocent, claiming her staff were responsible for the massive fraud. She has 15 days to appeal the verdict. Her death sentence, if carried out, would be by lethal injection.

The communist one-party state has been racked by unprecedented banking and financial scandals in recent years which have outraged the public, left its mark on leadership changes and jeopardized the country’s standing in trade and its plans to open up further to the outside world.

That includes a papal tour expected later this year, a first since ties between the Vatican and Hanoi were severed at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

In sentencing the judge said Lan held illegal control of SCB and she had assumed the helm of an "orchestrated and sophisticated criminal enterprise" through proxies and a network of government and bureaucratic officials.

State media quoted the judge as saying her actions “not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organizations but also push SCB into a state of special control; eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the party and state.”

When pleading her innocence, Lan had earlier told the court: “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.”

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