Vietnamese billionaire slapped with death sentence over $12.5 billion fraud

By Wycliffe Nyamasege
On 11 April 2024 at 02:46

A 67-year-old Vietnamese property developer has been sentenced to death over her role in a $12.5 billion (Rwf15.9 trillion) financial fraud case.

Truong My Lan, chair of major developer Van Thinh Phat, was found guilty of embezzlement, bribery and violations of banking rules by a court sitting in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday, April 11.

Lan had been accused of looting Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank (SCB), which she controlled through dozens of proxies, by arranging unlawful loans to shell companies between 2012 and 2022.

The alleged value of the assets Lan appropriated was approximately 3 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022, making the heist one of the largest in the country’s history.

Prosecutors claim that 1,000 properties owned by the accused have been seized.

The tycoon had denied any wrongdoing and instead blamed subordinates for the crimes. She stated that she had contemplated suicide due to the charges leveled against her.

“In my desperation, I thought of death,” Lan told the court in her final submissions last week, adding, “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 the severity of the sentence to the seriousness of the charges.

“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,” the judgment read in part.

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

Reports in the local media indicate that 84 defendants in the case received sentences ranging from probation for three years to life imprisonment.

The trial marked the highest level of drama yet in the "Blazing Furnaces" anti-corruption effort led by Communist Party Secretary-General, Nguyen Phu Trong.

Trong launched the fierce campaign on the belief that popular anger over untamed corruption poses an existential threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

Two presidents and two deputy prime ministers have been forced to resign, and hundreds of officials punished since the campaign began in earnest in 2016.