Married couple wanted for bank swindle

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Vietnamese police have issued a nationwide arrest warrant for a husband and wife who took out nearly US$21 million in bank loans while putting up fake coffee beans as collateral.

Police said the pair, Ho Minh Hau and his wife Pham Thi Ai Loan from Tan Binh District against Ho Chi Minh City, had "appropriated property via a swindle," according to a statement released last Wednesday.

Police in Hanoi, HCMC, Binh Duong and several Mekong Delta provinces have all called for the couple to be brought to court. Han and Loan had set up four firms and opened representative offices around those localities. Their arrest warrant was issued Sunday.

The first clue that a con had taken place came when the Hanoi-based Vietnam Russia Bank couldn't contact Hau after he railed to repay loans on time. The bank, which lent them nearly VND200 billion ($10.47 million), then tried to obtain the money from several of Hau's different offices.

Hau and Loan said they had borrowed the more than VND100 billion from banks in Hanoi and HCMC to buy produce for export. They mortgaged nearly 5,000 tons of coffee beans, but only 1,000 of them were real and others were sand. The fake bags of coffee beans were placed behind real ones at different stores. The couple also benefited from a government stimulus package that allowed them to pay only 4-percent interest on some loans.

They disappeared in December 2009.

But some say the duo did not work alone.

"Without some bankers lending a hand, the trick would not have managed to fool so many banks," a bank senior official in HCMC told Lao Dong. The official didn't want to be named.

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