Vietnamese Prosecutors Demand Death Penalty for Alleged Graft Mastermind

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Vietnamese Prosecutors Demand Death Penalty for Alleged Graft Mastermind

Truong My Lan, the head of a Ho Chi Minh City-based real estate group, has been accused of the biggest fraud in the country’s history

Vietnamese Prosecutors Demand Death Penalty for Alleged Graft Mastermind
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Vietnamese prosecutors are calling for the death sentence for the businesswoman who allegedly masterminded the biggest fraud in the country’s history, state media reported yesterday.

Truong My Lan, 68, the chairperson of the Ho Chi Minh City-based real estate developer Van Thinh Phat Holdings Group, is accused of using “thousands of ghost companies” to embezzle 304 trillion dong ($12.54 billion) from Saigon Commercial Bank (SCB), in collusion with family members and scores of accomplices.

On March 5, Lan’s trial opened in Ho Chi Minh City, and she faces a variety of charges, including bribery, violating banking regulations, and embezzlement. The proceedings are expected to last until the end of April.

In a hearing yesterday at Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court, prosecutors said that Lan had not shown contrition or remorse for her alleged actions, “making evasive statements and blaming subordinates,” in the paraphrase of VnExpress.

“The criminal behaviors of Lan, her accomplices and the inspection team have infringed on the government’s economic management, causing a loss of public trust, and therefore needs to be dealt with strictly,” prosecutors said. She therefore needs to be “ostracized from society forever.”

As VnExpress reported, prosecutors yesterday “recommended 19-20 years for bribery, 19-20 years for violating banking regulations, and death for embezzlement. The combined sentence recommended for her is death.”

They called for life sentences for several former SCB executives, including chairmen Dinh Van Thanh and Bui Anh Dung and CEO Vo Tan Hoang Van, who prosecutors said actively helped facilitate Lan’s fraud. They also recommended life prison for Do Thi Nhan, former chief bank inspector at the State Bank of Vietnam, who is alleged to have taken $5.2 million in bribes from Lan, in order to turn a blind eye to her machinations.

State investigators accuse Lan of engineering a vast structure of fraud involving more than 1,000 domestic and foreign shell companies that were set up under the auspices of Van Thinh Phat Group. They claim Lan and her accomplices used the SCB, of which she has been the majority shareholder since 2012, as their personal ATM, withdrawing an estimated 1 quadrillion dong ($44 billion) in loans against the savings of SCB’s customers between 2012 and 2022. Of this, she eventually appropriated 304 trillion dong, an amount equivalent to nearly 3 percent of the country’s GDP in 2022, through false loan applications and the “ghost companies.”

In total, 86 people have been charged in relation to the crime, which was excavated as part of the country’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign. These include Lan’s daughter Truong Hue Van and Hong Kong billionaire husband Eric Chu, as well as 45 SCB executives, 15 State Bank of Vietnam officials, three officials from the Government Inspectorate, and one former official from the State Audit Office.

Lan has denied any wrongdoing. “I had many assets and money at the bank,” she said during the trial. “Why would I steal my own money?” All of the other defendants have confessed to their crimes and said that they were acting on Lan’s orders.

The first two weeks of the trial has been exhaustively covered by state media outlets, suggesting that the authorities wish to make an example of Van Thinh Phat. Whether its anti-corruption campaign succeeds in deterring future schemes remains a subject of speculation, given the continued revelations of corruption at the highest levels of business and government.