Hanoi notaries scanned after suspected murder

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Hanoi authorities have ordered inspections of all notary offices in the city this month after head of a notary office involved in notarizing fake real estate documents was found dead last week.

The city People's Committee on Friday asked the Department of Justice to examine and report on the operation and management at notary offices in Hanoi by April 30.

The committee also asked the Justice Department and Hanoi police to quickly clarify details concerning the death of Nguyen Minh Hai, 56, head of the local office Viet Tin.

Hai left the office and went missing on Friday, April 9 after being summoned by the Department of Justice that same morning to discuss what his office had to do with the fake documents.

He delayed the meeting, saying "there are too many papers related to the case."

His body was found April 12 on the banks of the Red River with some injuries and a broken rib. Investigations are still ongoing to find out if he had committed suicide or was murdered.

Hai's family said he had been depressed lately and talking about being threatened by some people both at home and work.

The meeting with the department was called after Tran Quang Son, head of another Hanoi-based notary office, Thang Long, reported that "someone" had faked Thang Long's stamps to notarize five contracts granting themselves authority over some real estate properties. The copies of the contracts were then notarized at Viet Tin, Son said.

He said someone might have done that to usurp the right to sell or transfer others' lands and houses.

Pham Thanh Cao, an official with the Hanoi Department of Justice said the case could involve black market credit and loan sharks.

Creditors in the underworld always ask the borrowers to mortgage their land or assets. Then they fake documents to grant themselves authority over the properties, Cao said.

He said the department has found two customers involved Tran Ngoc Cuong, 31 and Ha Thuy Linh, 32.

Cuong and Linh had had around 100 real estate documents notarized at Viet Tin. The documents were found worth at least VND10 billion.

Hai was ex-member of Hanoi Bar Association. The Viet Tin office was established in October 2008 and had him as the sole public notary.

Until 2009, the firm's figures show it earned more than VND1.6 billion (US$84,200) notarizing more than 1,700 authority-granting contracts and nearly 1,700 property transfers.

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