Being in debt not a crime, hurt celebrity insists

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Fame earned over a lifetime gone in a second, Phuoc Sang tells supportive associates


  Director, producer and actor Luu Phuoc Sang at a talk with Thanh Nien newspaper reporter on October 8

Well-known director, producer and actor Luu Phuoc Sang is angry and sad that his friends, the media and the general public have maligned him unfairly.

He acknowledges that he has debts, but asserts he is no criminal.

He will stay put and fight the damage to this reputation, he says, calling for "calm and understanding."

Sang has been accused of failing to return debts of VND5 billion (some US$240,000), but he says the situation is temporary as he is caught up in financial difficulties like many big investors in the country, and that producer Chung Minh, his main accuser, is making a big fuss.

Besieged by local media since an official complaint was filed with the police on October 4, the 43-year-old held a press conference on October 10.

Sang clarified at the press conference that on October 7 he returned a Mercedes car worth around VND2 billion ($96,000) that the complaint said he had borrowed and then mortgaged.

He said the real truth is that a friend borrowed the Mercedes from him and failed to return it, but that this explanation would have made Minh even more anxious and worried. Director Lam Quang Teo had come to the conference, saying that he borrowed the car and apologized to Sang for any inconvenience had caused.

 
Chung Minh, head of the Chung Minh Media Company, sitting in his Mercedes sedan that was returned to him on October 7. Photo courtesy of Giaoduc.net.vn
Sang also said the money he has taken from Minh was an investment by the latter in an ongoing film project. Minh wanted to take back the investment before the project was completed, but he was unable to repay the money immediately.

The press conference seemed to aggravate matters.

Minh, 30-year-old head of the Chung Minh Media Company, said he had made no investments and the money was strictly a loan.

About the car, he said he's happy that he has got it back, and would not argue further about it being mortgaged or not. However, he demanded that Sang admits to having given it to singer Le Hieu. Minh's complaint said he and several other people saw the singer drive the car, although Sang and Hieu keep denying it.

"If Sang does not respect my reputation, I swear I will not drop the complaint," Minh told VnExpress.

Some lawyers said in reports carried by Dat Viet and Giao Duc Viet Nam that Sang could be charged with abusing another person's trust to appropriate their property, an offence punishable by between seven and 15 years in jail. They said that even if Sang returns the car and money later, he would still be subject to the same charge and would only receive a reduced penalty.

Minh has said that he and Sang did not sign any formal lending agreement, but he kept a recording of Sang admitting the debts and promising that he would return them.

"I have admitted owing many things to Minh. The economy is going through harsh times, every business is in debt," Sang told Thanh Nien newspaper.

Insiders say movie producers have been suffering losses since the beginning of this year.

But Sang said it's not that he did not have anything to repay the debts. He said he has invested a lot of money in real estate. He owns several pieces of land and his own house is worth $3 million. "But the market is frozen, nailing me down."

The beleaguered producer also said that this was a small problem that he would overcome. "My life has gone through a lot of ups and downs, starting from poverty," he told Giao Duc Viet Nam.

He said the public and local media should not treat him like a criminal when things are undecided.

"Investigators will issue the final verdict on whether I have committed a fraud."

Sang said reports about the complaint have influenced his current business a lot. "Later more people who have lent me money will follow suit."

He is still working at his studio in the city. He said he's supposed to be in Hong Kong now for parts of a movie planned for the Lunar New Year season in four months, but he's staying in the city to clarify the matter.

"I'm not running away."

Moral support

Artists in the city, including those with Sang during their first performing days, are on Sang's side.

They have narrated stories of how he has developed local theaters, and helped many actors find jobs and become famous. Such a devoted artist cannot be a con man, they say.

Quyen Linh, an actor and a famous emcee, told ThanhNien that the matter should be between insiders as everyone knows about the difficulties in the field.

Linh, one of Sang's close friends, said he has gone to different media companies trying to recover his money to help Sang, but they also keep making promises.

"Should I sue them then, like Sang has been sued?"

He said Sang deserved better for what he has done to the industry.

Sang has contributed to many movie successes like Huyen thoai bat tu (Legend Is Alive), a martial arts film and a box-office hit during the Lunar New Year film season in 2009, and Ao lua Ha Dong (The White Silk Dress) that was submitted to the Oscars in 2007.

"Thanks to him, many theaters in town are playing every night, and many actors and actresses have jobs," Linh said.

He said Sang has personally supported disadvantaged families of several artists.

"He's a noisy man who loves to advertise his movies and dramas, but he has silently suffered losses from Saigon Theater, only so that the artists there still have jobs."

Hong Van, an actress and director of the Phu Nhuan Drama Theater, also said that the public should be tolerant.

She said Sang was among the first to invest in theaters when the government allowed private investments in the field more than ten years ago.

"His film studio is real, his Saigon Theater is real; he did not set up those to cheat money from others."

"I have read online reports where people have said that gambling has put Sang in debt. Well, I have never seen him have any free time for decades. He did not have enough time for his family, let alone gambling," she told ThanhNien. "People should not push Sang into a corner."

Hoang Son, a friend and famous actor, said Sang is a strong man but too much pressure is always dangerous. Sang was already making jokes about killing himself, he said.

"The fame that I have spent a lifetime earning has gone in a second. That's so sad," Sang was quoted as telling Son in a Vietnam Cable Television report.

Sang refused to comment on media reports that he and his wife have divorced. "Please don't go into my private life at such a difficult time of my life. I want my two little sons to live in peace."

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