Vietnam property tycoon sentenced to death in $12bn fraud case

Truong My Lan was accused of appropriating large sums by arranging unlawful bank loans to shell companies

A court in Vietnam handed the death sentence on Thursday to real estate tycoon Truong My Lan for her role in a 304 trillion dong (€11.6 billion) financial fraud, the country’s biggest on record, state media said.

Her trial, begun on March 5th and ending earlier than planned, was one dramatic result of a campaign against the corruption that the leader of the ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, has pledged for years to stamp out.

Lan, chairwoman of real estate developer Van Thinh Phat Holdings Group (VTP), was found guilty of embezzlement, bribery and violations of banking rules at the end of a trial in the business hub of Ho Chi Minh City, state media said.

“We will keep fighting to see what we can do,” a family member said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Before the verdict he had said Lan would appeal against the sentence.


Lan had pleaded not guilty to the embezzlement and bribery charges, Nguyen Huy Thiep, one of Lan’s lawyers, said.

“Of course she will appeal the verdict,” he added, noting she was sentenced to death for the embezzlement charge and to 20 years each for the other two charges, of bribery and violations of banking regulations.

Vietnam mostly imposes the death penalty over violent offences, but also for economic crimes. Human rights groups say the country has executed hundreds of convicts in recent years, mainly by lethal injection.

The Thanh Nien newspaper said 84 defendants in the case received sentences ranging from probation for three years to life imprisonment. Among them are Lan’s husband, Eric Chu, a businessman from Hong Kong, who was sentenced to nine years in jail, and her niece, who was sentenced to 17 years.

Lan had started out as a cosmetics trader at the central market in Ho Chi Minh City, helping her mother, she told judges during the trial, according to state media. Later, in 1992, she founded her real estate company Van Thinh Phat, the year she got married, it added.

She was found guilty, with her accomplices, of siphoning off more than 304 trillion dong from Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank (SCB), which she effectively controlled through dozens of proxies, despite rules strictly limiting large shareholding in lenders, according to investigators.

From early 2018 to October 2022, when the state bailed out SCB after a run on its deposits triggered by Lan’s arrest, she appropriated large sums by arranging unlawful loans to shell companies, investigators said.

“The defendant’s actions not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organisations but also put SCB under scrutiny, eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and state,” state newspaper VnExpress cited the jury as saying.

The bank is propped up by the central bank and faces a complex restructuring under which authorities are trying to establish the legal status of hundreds of assets which were used as collateral for loans and bonds issued by VTP. The bonds alone are worth €1.1 billion.

Some of the assets are high-end properties, but many others are unfinished projects.

Before her fall from grace, Lan had played a key role in Vietnam’s financial world, getting involved in the previous rescue of troubled SCB more than a decade before she contributed to the bank’s new crisis.

She was found guilty of having bribed officials to persuade the authorities to look away, including paying €4.8 million to a senior central bank inspector, Do Thi Nhan, who was sentenced to life in prison.

Vietnam’s graft crackdown, dubbed Blazing Furnace, has seen hundreds of senior state officials and high-profile business executives prosecuted or forced to step down.

Corruption is so widespread that in some provinces many people say they pay bribes just to obtain medical services in public hospitals, according to a recent survey by the UN Development Programme and other organisations. – Reuters