Vietnam's prosecutors implicate multiple state firms in massive graft case

By Bao Ha   September 11, 2017 | 02:40 am PT
Vietnam's prosecutors implicate multiple state firms in massive graft case
Ha Van Tham, former chairman of Ocean Bank, is taken to court. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
PetroVietnam units have been identified among the recipients of illegal interest payments worth $70.4 million from OceanBank.

More than 50,000 individuals and nearly 400 businesses and organizations have been listed as beneficiaries in a multi-million-dollar graft trial that is ongoing in Hanoi, but few have admitted to taking illegal interest payments.

The OceanBank trial, with 51 bankers and businessmen in the dock, is halfway through its expected 20-day duration, and there have been heated arguments about who received illegal payments and how much they amounted to.

According to the indictment, the bank’s chairman at the time, Ha Van Tham, and other executives had offered deposit rates above those set by the central bank, causing losses of nearly VND1.6 trillion ($70.4 million).

The bankers said they were trying to attract customers to keep the business afloat.

Around $11 million in interest was paid to Nguyen Xuan Son, the then deputy CEO of the state-owned PetroVietnam, while the rest was paid out to nearly 400 businesses and organizations, including subsidiaries of the oil and gas giant PetroVietnam and the troubled-besieged shipbuilder Vinashin, prosecutors said.

When the trial started 10 days ago, only 19 units had admitted to having received a combined VND3 billion ($132,000) in excessive interest payments.

Others have either denied receiving any money or remained silent.

Son, who is in the dock on embezzlement charges, said he had not pocketed all the money. Instead, he said he had spent around VND50 billion ($2.2 million) on Lunar New Year celebrations at the firm and given top government officials VND50-200 million ($2,200-8,800) each for the holiday. He refused to name the officials in question.

He also claimed he gave VND30 billion ($1.3 million) to the group’s chief accountant at the time, Ninh Van Quynh.

Media reports on September 1 said Quynh, deputy general director of PetroVietnam, had been arrested for mismanagement linked to investment losses at Ocean Bank.

PetroVietnam held a VND800 billion ($35 million) stake in the bank, but that was completely written off when the central bank took it over in 2015.

The scandal at Ocean Bank and PetroVietnam took place between 2010 and 2014, during which time the ousted Politburo member Dinh La Thang headed the fuel giant.

Thang was dismissed from the Politburo, the Communist Party's decision-making body, in May pending a probe into mismanagement when he was PetroVietnam's board chairman from 2009 until 2011.

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