Energy exec faces death, ex-banker faces life as massive graft case unravels in Vietnam

By Bao Ha   September 14, 2017 | 11:14 am GMT+7
Energy exec faces death, ex-banker faces life as massive graft case unravels in Vietnam
Nguyen Xuan Son (L), former chairman of PetroVietnam, and his OceanBank counterpart Ha Van Tham at a trial in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress

Prosecutors have called for the stiffest penalty possible for former chairman of PetroVietnam Nguyen Xuan Son.

Prosecutors have called for the death sentence against the former chairman of scandal-hit state oil firm PetroVietnam and the life sentence for his counterpart at OceanBank, unfolding more drama at the ongoing multi-million-dollar graft trial in Hanoi.

The OceanBank trial, with 51 bankers and businessmen in the dock, heard the proposed sentences against the defendants on Thursday.

Nguyen Xuan Son served as chairman of the board at the state-owned oil and gas group PetroVietnam from 2014 until he was arrested in 2015, and is charged with embezzlement, abuse of power and deliberately violating state regulations on economic management. 

The 55-year-old, who had held various executive positions at PetroVietnam from 2003, is accused of pocketing around $11 million from the bank. He was CEO of OceanBank between 2008 and 2010, during which time PetroVietnam became a major shareholder.

Ha Van Tham, the former chairman of the board at OceanBank, is charged with similar counts besides “breaking regulations on lending activities at credit institutions”.

Other former bank executives are facing up to 27 years in jail.

According to the indictment, Tham had approved a VND500 billion ($23.5 million) loan for Pham Cong Danh, former chairman of Vietnam Construction Bank, via a real estate firm without properly securing collateral in 2012. The Ho Chi Minh City-based company later defaulted on the loan. Danh is facing 17 years in jail.

Tham and other executives also offered deposit rates above those set by the central bank to various customers including PetroVietnam between 2010 and 2014, causing losses of nearly VND1.6 trillion ($70.4 million).

Although Tham said the excessive rates were offered to attract customers to keep the business afloat and that they had paid off with profits, prosecutors said the crime “seriously affected the monetary market”.

More than 50,000 individuals and nearly 400 organizations, including PetroVietnam subsidiaries and many state-owned units, had cashed in from the interest, prosecutors said.

Police opened a probe into three units at the fuel giant on Wednesday for allegedly colluding with the bank to appropriate around $5.2 million.

The OceanBank trial opened in Hanoi on August 28 and is scheduled to last 20 days. It could go down as the biggest in Vietnam's history, with around 750 attendants and 51 bankers and businesspeople in the dock.

OceanBank 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.