18 face charges in $120-million loan scam at Vietnam's top lender Agribank

By Thai Son, Thanh Nien News

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A $197-million garment factory in the northern province of Ninh Binh is abandoned by its foreign investors who fled the country. Photo: Dinh Dung A $197-million garment factory in the northern province of Ninh Binh is abandoned by its foreign investors who fled the country. Photo: Dinh Dung

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Vietnam's top prosecutors have filed charges against 18 executives and employees of Agribank for abetting five foreigners in a massive loan scam that resulted in a VND2.75 trillion (US$120.8 million) loss for the state-owned lender.
The foreign suspects -- one Chinese, three Canadians, and one Italian -- fled the country when the case was busted in 2013 and are now wanted globally.
The 18 Vietnamese, including Agribank's dismissed CEO Pham Thanh Tan and his deputy Kieu Trong Tuyen, are charged with "power abuse," "dereliction of duty" and "violations of regulations on lending activities," according to the Supreme People's Procuracy.
Those charges are punishable by between 12 and 20 years. 
Prosecutors said the foreigners founded garment company Enzo Vietnam in 2007, and changed it into Lifepro Vietnam in 2011.
The company, which was licensed to build and operate a $197-million factory in the northern province of Ninh Binh, started borrowing from Agribank in 2008.
By January 2013, when Tan was arrested, the company had taken out VND2.75 trillion from the state-owned lender. 
The loans were disbursed soon after the company sent its first export shipment to Europe in March 2012, local media reported. 
Its founders then closed the factory, and left Vietnam as soon as they received the money, according to the reports. The value assets left behind is much lower than the loans. 
Prosecutors said the company's founders allegedly falsified documents of fashion brands its bought as collateral for the loans.
Although the fashion brands were not real, executives of the bank and its offices in Hanoi and Ninh Binh approved the company's loan applications, after allegedly receiving nearly $900,000 in kickbacks, they said.
The bribes was allegedly paid to Pham Thi Bich Luong and Chu Thi Kim Hien, who were then director and vice director of Agribank's office in southern Hanoi.
They then divided the money among others in their office so the loans could be disbursed smoothly, prosecutors said.
Tan, who was accused of approving of more than half of the loans, pocketed one third of the money, they said.
Four customs officers in Hanoi have also been prosecuted for clearing illegal imports by the company and providing trade documents to support its loan applications. 

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