‘I am sorry for implicating you in this’: Vietnamese banking tycoon addresses employees as graft trial nears end

By Bao Ha   September 24, 2017 | 07:54 pm PT
‘I am sorry for implicating you in this’: Vietnamese banking tycoon addresses employees as graft trial nears end
Ha Van Tham speaks at the OceanBank graft trial in Hanoi on Sunday. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Hoa
The judges will take a five-day break to decide the fates of the 51 bankers and businesspeople caught up in the scandal.

Defendants took the stand for the final time on Sunday to deliver their closing statements as the largest fraud trial ever to rock Vietnam's banking sector drew to a close in Hanoi.

Many asked for commuted sentences for themselves and their employees, who they said had just been following orders.

Ha Van Tham, the former board chairman of OceanBank held mainly responsible for $94 million in losses at the scandal-hit bank, asked the judges to be lenient with his employees.

“You used to sit with me on a boat when I was captain. I fell and many of you had to fall with me,” Tham said, addressing his former employees who account for a large number of the defendants.

“I am sorry for implicating you in this,” he said.

He also told his children, who were not at the trial, to learn from his experience and “live a good life and do things that I have not been able to do”.

The 45-year-old also asked for his own sentence to be commuted.

He is charged with embezzlement, abuse of power, deliberately violating state regulations on economic management, and breaking regulations on lending activities at credit institutions, and is facing life imprisonment as proposed by the country’s top prosecutors more than a week ago.

According to the indictment, Tham approved a VND500 billion ($23.5 million) loan wihout securing collateral in 2012, a loan the borrower, a property firm in Saigon, later defaulted on.

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

Nguyen Xuan Son, the former board chairman of the energy giant who faces the death penalty for embezzling around $11 million from OceanBank besides other charges, also asked for his former employees to be spared from harsh punishment as “they were forced to perform their tasks and did not benefit from the crime”.

The 55-year-old was CEO of OceanBank between 2008 and 2010, during which time PetroVietnam became a major shareholder.

Many defendants apologized to their families and promised to turn over a new leaf.

The OceanBank trial opened in Hanoi on August 28 and could go down as the biggest in Vietnam’s history, with around 750 attendants including 51 bankers and businessmen in the dock.

The hearing closed on Sunday and the judges will take a five-day break before announcing the verdicts on Friday.

OceanBank was founded in 1993 with a 20 percent stake from the Ocean Group, 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.

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