Embattled Vietnamese banking tycoon not out of the woods yet as graft case continues

By Bao Ha   October 1, 2017 | 02:53 am PT
Embattled Vietnamese banking tycoon not out of the woods yet as graft case continues
Former OceanBank chairman Ha Van Tham (R) is escorted by police after he leaves the Hanoi court over multi-million-dollar losses at the bank on Friday. Photo by Reuters/Kham
Investigators are looking into bad debts and fake contracts which the OceanBank exec allegedly signed off on.

The notorious OceanBank trial came to a close in Vietnam last Friday after a month of hearings, but for many people, it's not over yet.

Investigators have decided that there are so many facets to the case that they will need to open a follow-up investigation, with more people expected to be implicated.

Ha Van Tham, the former chairman of the scandal-hit bank who was sentenced to life imprisonement for his role in causing $94 million in losses, is likely to stand trial again.

During the recent trial, Tham was accused of causing losses by approving a loan without securing proper colletaral and offering customers deposit rates beyond the limits set by the central bank.

But the investigation found that his violations reached much further, VND1.9 trillion ($84.4 million) to be exact.

Tham is alleged to have been involved in issuing loans worth VND1.8 trillion to eight businesses that all defaulted on their debts, as well as multiple contracts designed to steal VND118 billion from the bank for his personal use.

The second stage of investigation will also look deeper into those who received excessive deposit rates from OceanBank.

Nguyen Xuan Son, former chairman of state energy giant PetroVietnam, was sentenced to death on Friday for appropriating VND246 billion from the bank.

But it's still not clear who he shared the money with.

So far, more than 50,000 individuals and nearly 400 organizations and businesses have been identified as recipients of the illegal deposit rates, including many PetroVietnam units and state shipbuilder Vinashin.

But only 19 businesses admitted to having received a combined VND3 billion during the trial, while 124 denied taking any money and the rest remained silent.

The Ministry of Public Security last month put three PetroVietnam units under investigation on suspicion of “colluding” with OceanBank execs to appropriate $5.2 million.

Investigators will also look into a 20 percent stake worth VND800 billion ($35 million) PetroVietnam bought in OceanBank that was subsequently written off when the central bank took it over in 2015.

Three PetroVietnam execs have already been arrested as part of the probe, and several inspectors at the central bank might also be held responsible for poor supervision.

The OceanBank trial opened in Hanoi on August 28 and is considered the biggest in Vietnam’s history, with around 750 attendants including 51 bankers and businessmen in the dock. Other defendants received up to 22 years in jail.

PetroVietnam and the banking sector are at the center of Vietnam’s sweeping corruption crackdown that has ensnared scores of high-ranking officials, including Dinh La Thang, a former member of the Communist Party’s decision-making Politburo who headed PetroVietnam from 2005 to 2011.

The country’s Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, who is spearheading the country’s anti-corruption campaign, said in July that the fight against corruption is no longer being handled slowly or on a case-by case basis.

“It has become a movement,” he said.

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