Vietnam bank tycoon in police custody for lending fraud probe

By Anh Vu, Thanh Nien News

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The chairman of a Hanoi-based bank was detained Friday as part of an ongoing probe into allegations that he had violated lending regulations.
Police from the Ministry of Public Security have detained Ha Van Tham, Chairman of Ocean Bank, for four months while they looked into the charges against him, a ministry official told Thanh Nien Friday afternoon. Police searched his house and workplace at around 7.30pm.
Earlier on the same day, the State Bank of Vietnam, the country's central bank, announced that the board of Ocean Bank on Oct. 23 dismissed Tham, 42, from his post in Ocean Bank following allegations of “seriously violating banking regulations.”
"Through investigation, the State Bank of Vietnam has found some serious violations of the law by Mr. Ha Van Tham himself," it said in a statement.
Tuoi Tre newspaper reported Saturday that Tham in 2012 approved a loan of VND500 billion ($23.5 million) to Trung Dung real estate company without proper collateral. Trung Dung is likely to default on the loan, Tuoi Tre said.

Ha Van Tham, Chairman of Ocean Bank, was arrested Friday pending investigations into lending violations. Photo credit: Ocean Bank.
“The State Bank of Vietnam is closely cooperating with relevant authorities to strictly deal with the violations at Ocean Bank under the law,” the central bank said on its website, without elaborating any further.
Before being arrested, Tham, a Doctor of Business Administration from US-based Paramount University of Technology, had been Chairman of Ocean Bank since 2007.
He was Chairman of property developer Ocean Group and hotel operator Ocean Hospitality.
Ocean Group holds a 20 percent stake in Ocean Bank and more than 75 percent in Ocean Hostapility, Ocean Securities, Ocean Media, Ocean Retail, and commodity exchange INFO, the group says on its website.
Ocean Group's shares on the main bourse, Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange, tumbled 11 percent since Wednesday amid rumors of Tham's arrest to close at VND10,900 (51 cents) on Friday.
Tham was the 8th richest man in Vietnam's stock exchange at the end of 2013.
He had earned many national titles including “Outstanding Vietnamese Businessman” in 2009 and “the 2011 Red Star Award” – which honors outstanding young entrepreneurs.
As Tham had been removed from his post, Ocean Bank general director Nguyen Minh Thu was voted as new chairman by the lender’s board of directors, the central bank said.
Ocean Bank’s business is unaffected by this case, it added.
Ocean Bank, headquartered in Hanoi, was founded in 1993. The lender said in April it aims to raise its registered capital from VND4 trillion (US$188 million) to VND5.35 trillion ($252 million) by this December.
It posted a pre-tax profit of VND232 billion ($10.9 million) last year.

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