Dozens in HCMC fear $1.4 mln loss after Canada emigration firm swindle

By Viet Anh   April 5, 2021 | 12:01 am PT
Dozens in HCMC fear $1.4 mln loss after Canada emigration firm swindle
A group of people in HCMC file documents to accuse the Universal Network Connection (UNC) firm in HCMC of fraud. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Anh.
Forty people reported handing billions of dong to a Ho Chi Minh City company to relocate to Canada, only to lose contact with the head of the firm.

The anonymous applicants told HCMC police they had visited Universal Network Connection (UNC) in District 1, managed by Woo Kyung Soo, a Korean Australian, in 2019 for advice on immigration to Canada via the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP).

The AIPP, launched in 2017, allows international workers to immigrate to four Atlantic Canadian provinces with old populations: New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. UNC claimed the process to enter the AIPP would be simple and easy, and that the company would help potential immigrants secure jobs in the aforementioned provinces.

On signing contracts with UNC, clients had to pay up to VND2 billion ($86,952) in three separate installments within 24 months. The 40 applicants said they had paid around $1.44 million of the total. According to their contracts, UNC had to find them work in Canada within six months of the signing, or else refund all collected fees.

All applicants have since claimed UNC had offered them fake or inappropriate jobs, among other signs the firm was trying to swindle them.

Le Uyen, who lives in the southern Binh Phuoc Province, said her husband had been working in IT for the past decade and had decided to immigrate to Canada and sponsor his wife and children. In a contract worth $86,000 with UNC in July 2019, the firm said it would find her husband a job. After the family paid the firm VND466 million, the husband was recommended a position as a painter, but the company he was employed with had neither name nor address.

When Uyen’s husband demanded the firm either change the job or liquidate the contract, UNC said 30 percent of the fee could not be refunded as the husband had "decided not to accept the job." As such a term was not covered in the contract, Uyen’s husband sued the firm last year. Accordingly, District 1 People’s Court contacted UNC, which failed to show up. To date, Uyen’s family has yet to be refunded.

Hoang Lan, who lives in HCMC's District 7, said she and her husband found UNC through the Internet. "I trusted it because I saw the company had six offices and claimed it had much experience and a reputation," she said.

In 2019, the couple signed a $70,000 contract with UNC, and paid the firm VND300 million for it to find them work within six months. When UNC said it had found the husband a job as a bakery manager in New Brunswick, another VND800 million was paid. UNC then promised to complete immigration procedures before collecting the rest of the money.

But as 2020 ended without new progress, in January Lan received news the agent in charge of UNC’s profiles had quit, with Lan recommended to contact the company’s CEO, Kyung Soo, herself.

"I found out that my and my husband’s profiles had been dismissed by Canadian employers in 2020, yet UNC did not inform us about it," Lan said, adding it was a breach of contract.

Nguyen Khanh, who lives is District 2, said his wife applied for the AIPP in 2018 through UNC. The firm offered her services with $60,000, and has been paid VND938 million in total. UNC said it would provide the wife with a job in seafood, but did not say exactly where she would work, for whom or for how much. In June 2019, Khanh demanded to terminate the contract and UNC promised to refund the money, but so far no money has been returned.

Disappearing act

In January, dozens of UNC customers visited its office to meet with Kyung Soo. The incident was brought to the Ben Thanh Ward police, where Kyung Soo was reported to have signed a paper promising to ensure his clients’ rights and not run away.

Three days later, UNC’s office had been emptied and all its employees quit. The building which hosted the firm confirmed the company had shut down and there was no way to contact it. The company’s lawyer later sent an email to inform clients to contact the CEO themselves to process their profiles.

Later that month, Kyung Soo did meet with a group of clients, promising to return their money, but has not been seen since.

The HCMC anti-corruption police department said it has been investigating the case, but could not provide the press with any information as yet.

UNC, formed in 2017, said it provides advice on studying abroad and investments, according to the Ministry of Planning and Investment. It also said it belonged to Universal Network Connection Group, which advises on immigration and was founded in 2009 in South Korea by Woo Kyung Soo himself.

Phan Huy Thai Nguyen, a lawyer with the HCMC Bar Association, said the AIPP contract helps Vietnamese to work abroad. Therefore, it must have registered with the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs to be allowed to give advice and recommend workers for jobs, among other requirements.

But UNC only registered to provide advice for studying abroad and investments, which does not entail job recommendations.

Therefore, the fact UNC, without approval to send workers abroad, still signed contracts by which it failed to abide, while also failing to refund its clients, showed signs of "Obtaining property by fraud" in accordance with Vietnamese law.

Nguyen Van Doanh, another lawyer with the HCMC Bar Association, said companies that send workers abroad must be approved to do so, but UNC is not one of them. Therefore, what the company has done is illegal, and it would be a difficult for its clients to regain their money, especially after the firm shut down and its director gone off-grid, he added.

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