‘I tried to return $5.2M bribe,’ former central bank inspector says at $12B fraud trial

By Hai Duyen, Quoc Thang   March 9, 2024 | 02:14 am PT
‘I tried to return $5.2M bribe,’ former central bank inspector says at $12B fraud trial
Do Thi Nhan, former chief bank inspector at the State Bank of Vietnam, at the People's Court of Ho Chi Minh City on March 8, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Do Thi Nhan, former chief bank inspector at the State Bank of Vietnam, wanted to return the US$5.2-million bribes she received from Saigon Commercial Bank but was unable to.

At least that is what she told the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court Friday at her trial for corruption bribes.

She admitted to taking the bribe from former SCB CEO Vo Tan Hoang Van in four instalments, but denied favoring SCB in return.

She did not accept any bribe during the inspection of the bank, and rejected bribe offers from Van even after pointing out the fraud the bank, she said. "I only took the money when Van said do not make things harder for him and for me. I was very scared and never used any of the money."

She claimed to have called Van several times to take the money back and been unable to convince him.

The money was given to her in three Styrofoam containers that looked like fruit boxes. She said she kept one of them at a relative’s empty house in Hanoi and sent the other two to another relative in Nam Dinh Province, but no one knew they contained cash.

She had made an honest report on the bank’s situation, but her boss and deputy chief inspector Nguyen Van Hung told her to "follow his orders" and make changes to it, she said.

She had wanted to return the money, but her mother passed away and so she was busy, and she was arrested two days after her death, she said.

Presiding judge Pham Luong Toan said SCB should have been placed under special control by the government in 2018, but because Nhan took the bribe and made changes to the report, the decision was delayed until 2022.

Nhan admitted she was wrong. She had handed in the entire bribe money to authorities, she said, seeing mercy from the bench for herself and the other in the inspection team.

According to the prosecution, deputy chief inspector Hung made the decision to inspect SCB but concealed its wrongdoing from the government.

Hung admitted to the court he had received $390,000 from SCB chairman Dinh Van Thanh and Van to cover up their crime.

At the time of the inspection he was preparing to retire and so did not pay close attention to the report from his subordinates, he said.

But Toan would have none of it, saying Hung was fully aware of all inspection processes and regulations.

At the end of his testimony Hung broke down and told the court sobbing that the members of the inspection team had never committed any such crime before and asked for a reduced sentence for them.

At the ongoing two-month trial, Van Thinh Phat chairwoman Truong My Lan is on trial for bribery, violating bank regulations and embezzlement after allegedly misappropriating VND304 trillion ($12.31 billion) from SCB.

She used the money to fund Van Thinh Phat’s operations. She owned 91.5% of the bank’s shares in various people’s names.

Between 2012 and 2022 SCB gave Lan over 2,500 loans worth over VND1 quadrillion, equivalent to 93% of its entire credit portfolio.

She is accused of causing losses of VND498 trillion to the bank.

The 85 others on trial along with her are charged with embezzlement, bribery, abuse of power while performing official duties, dereliction of duty causing serious consequences, and violating bank regulations.

Of them, 45 are SCB executives, 15 are State Bank of Vietnam officials, three are from the Government Inspectorate, and one is a former official at the State Audit Office.

The trial began at the People’s Court of HCMC March 5 and is scheduled to go on until April 29.

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