Vietnamese billionaire sentenced to death in Ksh1.6 trillion fraud case

By , K24 Digital
On Thu, 11 Apr, 2024 14:14 | 2 mins read
Vietnamese property tycoon Truong My Lan (centre) inside the court. PHOTO/AFP

A court in Vietnam has sentenced a property tycoon to death over her role in a $12.5 billion/Ksh1.6 trillion financial fraud case, the country’s largest on record.

Truong My Lan, chair of major developer Van Thinh Phat, was found guilty of embezzlement, bribery and violations of banking rules at the end of a trial in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday, according to state media. Her lawyers now have 15 days to appeal the verdict.

The 67-year-old illegally controlled the Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank (SCB) between 2012 and 2022 to siphon the funds through thousands of ghost companies and by paying bribes to government officials.

The value of her alleged asset appropriation was equivalent to about 3 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022, and prosecutors said they seized more than 1,000 properties belonging to her.

Lan had denied charges levelled against her, instead blaming subordinates. In her final remarks to the court last week, she said 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.”

The court attributed its harsh sentence to the seriousness of the case, saying Lan was at the helm of an orchestrated and sophisticated criminal enterprise that had serious consequences with no possibility of the money being recovered, reported VnExpress state media.

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”, VnExpress quoted the judgement as saying.

‘Blazing Furnace’

Lan’s arrest in October 2022 was among the most high-profile in an ongoing anticorruption drive that started in 2016 and has picked up pace since 2022.

The so-called Blazing Furnace campaign has touched the highest echelons of Vietnamese politics, with two presidents and two prime ministers having resigned in recent years and hundreds of officials disciplined or jailed.

Lan’s husband, Hong Kong investor Eric Chu Nap-Kee, was one of the 86 on trial after being accused of setting up fake loan applications to withdraw money from the Saigon bank, in which she owned a 90 percent stake. Lan’s niece Truong Hue Van, who was the CEO of Van Thinh Phat, was another top figure on trial.

The Thanh Nien newspaper reported that 84 defendants in the case received sentences ranging from probation for three years to life imprisonment.

Michael Tatarski, host of Vietnam Weekly podcast based in Ho Chi Minh City, said Lan and her family have been highly obscure despite their vast wealth, with very little information or pictures of them publicly available.

“Some of it is emerging now, but little is known about how she came to acquire this massive wealth. They are very secretive despite being an incredibly powerful family,” he told Al Jazeera.

Tatarski said this is one of the largest financial crimes in world history, let alone in Vietnam. This has meant that unprecedented details of corruption cases are being published and scrutinised by state media.

“I think it’s clear there is some real desire to combat corruption here,” he said.

“There are probably some valid arguments that some of this has a political tinge to it, but there is also clearly enormous amounts of corruption and fraud that does need to be cleaned up.”

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