18 stand trial for $110mln scam at Vietnam's top lender Agribank

By Ha An, Thanh Nien News

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A file photo Agribank's office in southern Hanoi. Photo: Ha An
A court in Hanoi started hearing the case of top executives at state-run Agribank who have been accused of abetting foreigners to swindle around VND2.53 trillion (US$110.75 million) between 2008 and 2012.
The trial started Monday and verdicts are expected on December 31.
The defendants in one of the biggest corruption cases of the year are charged with "power abuse," "dereliction of duty" and "violations of regulations on lending activities," which are punishable by between 12 and 20 years. 
Five foreign suspects -- one Chinese, three Canadians, and one Italian -- fled the country when the case was busted in 2012 and are now wanted globally.
The foreigners founded garment company Enzo Vietnam in 2007, and were licensed to develop a VND530-billion ($23.2 million) factory in the northern province of Ninh Binh, according to the indictment.
They started borrowing from Agribank's office in southern Hanoi under the company's name in 2008.
In 2011, they changed the company's name into Lifepro Vietnam, which continued to take out loans from the bank, using faked and invalid contracts as collateral, prosecutors said.
Pham Thi Bich Luong, 46, who was then the director of the bank's office, allegedly approved the loans without assessing the applications properly. 
As of September 2012, the bank's office disbursed a total of VND2.53 trillion to the company.
More than 67 percent of the amount came from the bank's headquarters, which required the approval of its then CEO 60-year-old Pham Thanh Tan, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said Luong received VND3 billion ($131,000) in kickbacks from the company and divided the money among people who were involved in approving and disbursing the loans.
Besides Luong and Tan, other bank executives in question included deputy CEO Kieu Trong Tuyen, 63, and board member Hoang Anh Tuan, 53.
Four customs officers in Hanoi were accused of clearing illegal imports by the company and providing trade documents to support its loan applications.
Le Minh Hieu, 41, chairman of a subsidiary of Lifepro Vietnam, is the sole member of the company to stand trial.

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