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Vietnamese Billionaire Sentenced to Death Over $27 bn Fraud

A Vietnamese billionaire has been sentenced to death in a $27bn fraud.

The real estate tycoon and chair of the developer ‘Van Thinh Phat,’ Truong My Lan, was found guilty of embezzlement, bribery and violations of banking rules. The case sent shockwaves across the country where a total of $12.5bn was embezzled. This amounts to almost 3% of Vietnamese gross domestic product.

However, prosecutors argued that total damage caused by the scam has now reached $27bn.

“The defendant’s actions … eroded people’s trust in the leadership of the [Communist] party and state,” read the verdict at the trial in Ho Chi Minh City.

Lan was found guilty of swindling money from Saigon Commercial Bank (SCB) for over 10 years. Another 85 people were also tried including former central bankers, government officials and SCB executives.

According to State media, Lan told the court that she had joined the banking industry without enough experience and shifted the blame to a “lack of understanding of legal matters.” In her last remarks to the court, she admits to thinking about suicide, saying, “In my desperation, I thought of death,” and asked the court to be lenient to her husband, a Hong Kong businessman, and her niece who are also on trial.

Over 1,000 properties belonging to Lan have been seized, with nearly 2,700 individuals called for the trial which included 200 lawyers.

To conceal the fraud, Lan and other SCB bankers were accused of bribing state officials $5.2m, the largest bribe ever recorded in Vietnam. The money was given in styrofoam boxes, according to a former chief banking inspector at the State Bank of Vietnam.

Since 2021, thousands of people have been indicted for corruption in the country, in what analysts have described as the most comprehensive anti-corruption effort in the history of the Communist party of Vietnam.

Last month, the Vietnamese government announced the resignation of its second president, Vo Van Thuong, over alleged “violations and flaws” that had “negatively affected public perception, as well as the reputation of the party and the state.” He had been in power for just over a year after his predecessor, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, was forced out because of corruption scandals involving officials under his control.

Evaluating public sentiment in Vietnam, a one-party state, is challenging. However, social media comments suggested many were shocked by the scale of the scandal, said Giang. While some welcomed the state crackdown, others questioned how corruption on such a huge scale could go unchecked for so long.

Dr. Nguyen Khac Giang, a visiting fellow at the Vietnam studies programme at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute said, “[The case] might indirectly signal that the state hasn’t really been doing well in terms of managing the system in terms of the increasingly complex market economy and also the state is incapable of controlling their own public officials.”

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