Vietnam ex-banker sentenced to death in fraud saga

HANOI (AFP) – An ex-banker was sentenced to death yesterday for his role in a massive fraud case involving millions of dollars of illegal loans, in a scandal that reaches deep inside Vietnam’s corruption-riddled financial system.

A co-conspirator also received life in prison in a dramatic capping of a month-long trial involving 51 bankers and businessmen – part of an anti-corruption drive that critics say is also sweeping up political enemies of Vietnam’s communist leaders.

Former Ocean Bank general director Nguyen Xuan Son, who later became chairman of the powerful state oil firm PetroVietnam, was sentenced to death for embezzlement, abuse of power and economic mismanagement.

The bank’s ex-chairman Ha Van Tham, once one of Vietnam’s richest men, was jailed for life on the same charges, as well as violating lending rules. He was convicted of illegally approving a $23 million loan in 2012.

Also mentioned in the verdict was PetroVietnam’s acquisition of a $35-million stake in the bank. It was later written off when the central bank bought Ocean Bank for $0 in 2015.

This photo released by the Vietnam News Agency shows former Ocean Bank general director and former chairman of giant state oil firm PetroVietnam, Nguyen Xuan Son, being escorted at a Hanoi court on the final day of his trial yesterday. Son was sentenced to death for embezzlement, abuse of power and economic mismanagement in a scandal that reaches deep inside Vietnam’s corruption-riddled financial system. – AFP

Both men left the courthouse stone-faced after the verdict.

“Tham and Son’s behaviour is very serious, infringing on the management of state (assets) and causing public grievances, which requires strict punishment,” said judge Truong Viet Toan.

The charges cascaded down the ranks, targeting accountants, branch managers and scores of others in one of the country’s largest-ever banking trials.

The other sentences announced yesterday ranged from 22 years in prison to 18-month suspended sentences and re-education outside of prison.

The scandal sparked the demise of Ocean Bank.

It had been part of Ocean Group, which takes in real estate and hotel subsidiaries and enjoyed a meteoric rise after its founding in 2007. It was valued at $500 million in 2013 under Tham’s stewardship.