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Vietnam sentences real estate tycoon to death in fraud case

THANH TUNG/VNEXPRESS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Businesswoman Truong My Lan, front center, attends a trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on Thursday. The real estate tycoon may face the death penalty if convicted of allegations that she siphoned off an amount of $12.5 billion, nearly 3 percent of Vietnam’s 2022 GDP, in its largest financial fraud case.
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THANH TUNG/VNEXPRESS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

Businesswoman Truong My Lan, front center, attends a trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on Thursday. The real estate tycoon may face the death penalty if convicted of allegations that she siphoned off an amount of $12.5 billion, nearly 3 percent of Vietnam’s 2022 GDP, in its largest financial fraud case.

HANOI, Vietnam >> Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh city in southern Vietnam in the country’s largest financial fraud case ever, state media Thanh Nien said.

The 67-year-old chair of the real estate company Van Thinh Phat was formally charged with fraud amounting to $12.5 billion — nearly 3% of the country’s 2022 GDP.

Lan illegally controlled Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank between 2012 and 2022 to allow 2,500 loans that resulted in losses of $27 billion to the bank, reported state media VnExpress. The court asked her to compensate the bank $26.9 million.

Despite mitigating circumstances — this was a first-time offense and Lan participated in charity activities — 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, VnExpress said. Her actions “not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organizations but also push SCB (Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank) into a state of special control; eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and State,” VnExpress quoted the judgement as saying.

The 2011 merger of a beleaguered SCB bank involved two other lenders. The banks have since become one of Vietnam’s largest commercial banks by assets.

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

Lan’s arrest in October 2022 was among the most high-profile in an ongoing anti-corruption drive in Vietnam that has intensified since 2022. The so-called Blazing Furnace campaign has touched the highest echelons of Vietnamese politics. Former President Vo Van Thuong resigned in March after being implicated in the campaign.

But it’s the scale of Lan’s trial has shocked the nation. VTP was among Vietnam’s richest real estate firms, with projects including luxury residential buildings, offices, hotels and shopping centers. Analysts said the scale of the scam raised questions about whether other banks or businesses had similarly erred, dampening Vietnam’s economic outlook and making foreign investors jittery at a time when Vietnam has been trying to position itself as the ideal home for businesses trying to pivot their supply chains away from China.

The real estate sector in Vietnam has been hit particularly hard: An estimated 1,300 property firms withdrew from the market in 2023, developers have been offering discounts and gold as gifts to attract buyers, and despite rent for shophouses falling by a third in Ho Chi Minh City, many in the city center are still empty, according to state media.

In November, Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s top politician, said that the anti-corruption fight would “continue for the long term.”

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