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Vietnam business tycoon faces death sentence in billion-dollar fraud case

One of Vietnam’s prominent property moguls faces the possibility of a death sentence on Thursday as she and her co-defendants await verdicts in one of the most significant corruption trials in history, involving an estimated $27 billion in damages.

Truong My Lan, the chair of the major developer Van Thinh Phat, stands accused of siphoning funds from Saigon Commercial Bank over a span of ten years.

The defendants, including former central bankers, ex-government officials, and previous SCB executives, arrived at the colonial-era courthouse early in the morning, escorted by more than a dozen police cars and vans.

Following a five-week trial in the business hub of Ho Chi Minh City, Lan and 85 others are now awaiting verdicts and sentencing on charges ranging from bribery and abuse of power to embezzlement and violations of banking law.

While Lan is accused of embezzling $12.5 billion, prosecutors revealed on Thursday that the total damages caused by the scam amount to $27 billion, representing six percent of the country’s 2023 GDP.

Despite denying the charges and attributing blame to her subordinates, Lan could be seen fidgeting and looking up from the front row in the courtroom as prosecutors have called for the death sentence, an unusually severe punishment in such cases.

Arrested as part of a national anti-corruption campaign targeting officials and business elites, Lan expressed thoughts of suicide in her final remarks to the court, citing her frustration with the cutthroat banking sector, in which she claimed to have little expertise.

The arrest of Lan in October 2022 sparked protests in the capital Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, a rare occurrence in the communist state, highlighting the shockwaves of the scandal that has impacted around 42,000 victims, according to police.

Allegedly orchestrating fake loan applications to extract funds from SCB, Lan, who is married to a wealthy Hong Kong businessman also on trial, faces accusations of leaving SCB bondholders unable to access their money or receive interest payments.

During the trial, prosecutors revealed the seizure of more than 1,000 properties belonging to Lan and described a record-breaking $5.2 million bribe allegedly given to state officials by Lan and SCB bankers to conceal the bank’s misconduct.

Do Thi Nhan, the former head of the State Bank of Vietnam’s inspection team, testified that the bribe was offered to her in Styrofoam boxes by SCB’s former CEO, Vo Tan Van, but she refused to accept them.

Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaign, which has led to over 4,400 indictments across more than 1,700 cases since 2021, saw another high-profile figure, Do Anh Dung, head of the Tan Hoang Minh group, sentenced to eight years in prison last month for his involvement in a $355 million bond scam.

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