Chief of indebted seafood company ordered to return to Vietnam

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Authorities in the southern Vietnamese city of Can Tho have ordered the boss of a massively indebted seafood company to return from the US or provide medical records for her alleged cancer treatment.

Pham Thi Dieu Hien is general director of Binh An Seafood Joint Stock Company (Bianfishco), which owes more than VND1.27 trillion ($61.4 million) to nine banks, a credit organization, and scores of farmers.

She is thought to personally owe VND0.29 trillion (almost $14 million).

Tuoi Tre newspaper Tuesday quoted Vo Thanh Thong, vice chairman of the city, as saying the order had been made because the 30-day term of Tran Van Tri, her husband, who had taken over as general director of Bianfishco from her, has ended.

Tri said in an interview to Tien Phong newspaper last week that his wife is in the US for treatment for breast cancer which has also spread to her liver.

He also furnished a photo of Hien in a hospital with her head shaved.

Thong said if Hien is indeed undergoing treatment, she has to furnish her medical records and submit a letter authorizing someone to act as her legal representative, both attested by the Vietnamese consulate in the US.

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Newswire Vietnamnet said the authorities' demand came after many people pointed out that the date on the photo was September 16, 2009.

Hien's family tried to explain away the discrepancy by saying they had not reset the camera's date since buying it.

Tri has submitted reports to the government, the State Bank of Vietnam, the General Department of Security and Can Tho authorities, and sought assistance to pay off Bianfishco's debts, newswire VnExpress reported Tuesday.

He also said the company would sell properties it owns in Ho Chi Minh City and equity to pay part of its debts.

He has sought a three-year moratorium on bank loans.

"Bianfishco's future is positive," he said.

Thong told VnExpress that city authorities would help Bianfishco negotiate with its partners and banks if its business plans are feasible.

However, matters related to bank loans are essentially out of the city's control, he warned.

On February 19, before leaving the country, Hien made media headlines for organizing a lavish wedding for her son, complete with a line-up of luxurious cars and celebrities. She told the media that the extravagant ceremony was meant to prove that she was not in debt.

But soon after it was revealed that her company had a mountain of debts.

Two farmers and three companies have since filed lawsuits against Bianfishco demanding repayment of a total of VND25 billion ($1.2 million).

The company has closed its representative office in California, the US, Tri said.

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