51 bankers, businessmen in the dock as Vietnam reopens massive bank fraud trial

By Viet Dung   August 28, 2017 | 11:35 am GMT+7

The trial could go down as one of the biggest in Vietnam's history with prosecutors looking to turn the key on the $94 million case.

Hundreds of people were summoned to court in Hanoi on Monday as the much-anticipated Ocean Bank trial involving over $94 million in losses was resumed.

The biggest courtroom in Hanoi was packed as Ha Van Tham, the private bank’s former chairman, stood behind bars with dozens of his subordinates.

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Defendants stand at the trial in Hanoi on Monday, including Ocean Bank's former chairman Ha Van Tham (R). Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Hoa

Among the 51 defendants are former members of state oil and gas giant PetroVietnam, the central bank and Vietnam Construction Bank, which was taken over by the government in 2015 following continued losses.

Around 700 other people including more than 50 lawyers and hundreds of those who had benefited from the misuse of money were also in court.

Given the number of attendants, the trial could go down in history as one of the biggest in Vietnam. It also broke into New York Times’ morning update of things you should know to start the day.

The case was brought to trial for the first time in February but was adjourned after the judge ordered further investigations.

Following the new probe, Tham is further charged with embezzling property, besides counts of “breaking regulations on lending activities at credit institutions” and “deliberately violating state regulations on economic management, causing serious consequences”.

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Ha Van Tham, former chairman of Ocean Bank, is escorted to court in Hanoi in February. Photo by VnExpress

The new indictment also brings in four new defendants, including Pham Cong Danh, former chairman of Vietnam Construction Bank who is already serving a 30-year jail term after a court last year found him guilty of illegally withdrawing more than VND9 trillion ($404 million).

The investigation found that Tham had approved a VND500 billion ($23.5 million) loan for Danh via a real estate firm without properly securing collateral in 2012. The Ho Chi Minh City-based company later defaulted on the loan.

Police said Tham and other executives also offered deposit rates above those set by the State Bank, causing losses of nearly VND1.6 trillion ($70.4 million).

Nearly 700 people benefited from the illegal rates.

The U.S.-educated banker, who was Vietnam's eighth richest man in 2013 based on stock holdings, had won several national awards for outstanding entrepreneurship before his arrest in October 2014.

Ocean Bank was founded in 1993 with a 20 percent stake from the Ocean Group conglomerate, which also invests in hospitality, securities, media and retail.

In April 2015, the central bank took over the bank and put major lender VietinBank in charge. The bank’s new chairman said in a statement posted on its website in January that its operation had been “profitable” over the past two years.

The trial, scheduled to last 20 days, has been described by Vietnam’s government as part of its efforts to crack down on corruption.

A month ago, former Sacombank exec Tram Be was arrested, accused of breaking regulations in the $400 million graft case that also involved Pham Cong Danh, the biggest ever fraud case to rock the country’s banking sector.

 
 
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