Tycoon faces US$12bil fraud case


For several years, Truong My Lan held meetings on the 39th floor of the sleek Times Square tower in the heart of Vietnam’s commercial hub, Ho Chi Minh City. There, in a room that acted as her command centre, she allegedly wove a US$12bil (RM56.8bil) tapestry of fraud and corruption, according to the police reports that form the basis of a court case against her.

Authorities allege there were “ghost” companies, payoffs to government officials and a bank she illegally controlled that disbursed loans to herself and her allies worth about 11% of the nation’s 2022 GDP.

Her personal driver secretly shuttled millions of dollars in cash across the city’s chaotic streets, police say. Twenty-four government inspectors – whose jobs are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of the banking system – are alleged to have taken Lan’s money to cover up violations.

The woman behind Van Thinh Phat Group, one of Vietnam’s most moneyed real estate empires, now awaits a trial starting tomorrow – and a possible death sentence or imprisonment if found guilty.

More arrests are expected in a probe that has contributed to a virtual freeze in the nation’s bond and real estate markets, as bureaucrats fearful of being swept up in police investigations slow-walk approving legal documents.

The country’s largest-ever fraud case is among a slew of high-profile proceedings following the Communist Party of Vietnam’s crackdown on corruption.

The foreign ministry, which handles enquiries to the government from foreign media, said in a statement that the party’s policy is to resolutely fight corruption “and to handle those who violate the law with strict punishments.”

The government aims to “strengthen citizens’ trust in the party” and create a transparent business environment, it said.

Lan recognises she may have violated the law, but “she didn’t intentionally commit those violations, nor try to cause damage to the state and depositors,” her lawyer, Giang Hong Thanh, said in a telephone interview.

He added that Lan is willing to cover any economic damages that the court rules she is responsible for.

Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaign has touched the highest levels of government and virtually all sectors of society.

Former president Nguyen Xuan Phuc stepped down in January last year after taking “political responsibility” for corruption cases during the pandemic.

Two deputy prime ministers who respectively oversaw the health and foreign affairs ministries were also dismissed.

Fifty-four other individuals were convicted last year in a case involving millions of dollars of bribes tied to government-directed “rescue” flights for Vietnamese trying to get home while Covid-19 raged. — Bloomberg

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