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Vietnamese billionaire sentenced to death for defrauding $44 billion

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Truong My Lan, a 67-year-old Vietnamese property developer, was sentenced to death on Thursday for looting one of the nation’s biggest banks over 11 years.

Truong Lan was convicted of taking out $44 billion in loans from the Saigon Commercial Bank. As per the verdict, she must return $27 billion, a sum the prosecution believes may be impossible to recover.

The communist authorities, known for their secrecy, were uncharacteristically transparent about this case, providing the media with specific details. They revealed that about 2,700 people were called to testify, while 10 state prosecutors and 200 attorneys were also involved.

Six tonnes of evidence were contained in 104 crates. Truong My Lan was one of 85 defendants put on trial, and she refuted the allegations.

“There has never been a show trial like this, I think, in the communist era,” David Brown, a retired US State Department official with long experience in Vietnam, said.

The trial is being regarded as the most dramatic incident so far in the anti-corruption campaign led by the Communist Party Secretary-General, Nguyen Phu Trong.

Nguyen Phu Trong, a conservative ideologue well-versed in Marxist theory, believes that the public’s rage over unbridled corruption presents an existential challenge to the Communist Party’s hold on power. After outwitting the pro-business prime minister at the time to keep his position as the party’s leader, he launched the campaign in earnest in 2016.

Hundreds of officials have been reprimanded or imprisoned during the campaign, forcing the resignation of two presidents and two deputy prime ministers. One of the wealthiest ladies in the nation has just joined their ranks.

Truong My Lan was raised in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, by a Sino-Vietnamese family. With a sizable ethnic Chinese population, it has long been the commercial backbone of the Vietnamese economy, going back to when South Vietnam was still fighting communism and its capital.

Truong began her career selling cosmetics at market stalls alongside her mother, but with the Communist Party ushering in a phase of economic reform known as Doi Moi in 1986, she started investing in real estate. By the 1990s, she possessed a sizable portfolio of lodging facilities and eateries.

While Vietnam’s manufacturing industry is rapidly expanding and serves as a viable alternative supply chain to China, most affluent Vietnamese have amassed their riches through real estate development and speculation.

By 2011, Truong My Lan was a popular businesswoman in the province of Ho Chi Minh City allowed to coordinate the merger of three smaller, financially struggling banks into a larger entity, Saigon Commercial Bank.

It is illegal for any individual in Vietnam to own more than 5% of the shares in a bank. However, the prosecution claims that Truong My Lan truly owned more than 90% of Saigon Commercial through hundreds of shell corporations and proxies.

Truong was accused of using her influence to appoint her people as managers and instructing them to sanction hundreds of loans to the network of shell companies she controlled. Her loans accounted for 93% of the bank’s total lending.

 

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