Vietnam police confiscation forces gold shop to temporarily close

By Trung Hieu, Thanh Nien News

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The Hoang Mai Gold Shop in HCMC's Binh Thanh District

A gold shop in Ho Chi Minh City will temporarily close following a police raid that has raised eyebrows among legal experts.

Speaking on Sunday, Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai, the owner of Hoang Mai Gold Shop in Binh Thanh District, said she'll close her shop from May 11 to December 31 as she's “in a state of panic.”

Police stormed into the shop on Bui Huu Nghia Street at 1 p.m. on Thursday (April 24) claiming they had seen a man trying to exchange a US$100 note for Vietnamese dong.

The police then spent eight hours combing the shop from top to bottom, seizing more than US$14,000 in cash and equipment, including a security camera and a CPU.

Before leaving, the officers sealed off 559 taels of gold on display in the shop.

Police later removed evidentiary seals after Mai produced papers to prove she inherited the gold from her parents.

Police continue to hold her $14,000 and other equipment pending an investigation.

Mai objected to the search of her shop and house, saying it was illegal.

She declined to sign a report of her crime.

In Vietnam, the government sporadically clamps down on the illicit trade in dollars in an effort to support the Vietnamese currency.

On Sunday, Mai said she had hired a lawyer and is considering bringing the case to court.

She claims is being treated for mental shock caused by the raid.

Duong Cong Kien, a spokesman for the Hoang Mai Company, told the press he was also shocked by the raid.

He said he was the only one in the shop when a young man came in asking to sell $100.

Kien says he told him the shop does not trade in US dollars.

After the young man left the shop, two men in plainclothes entered and demanded to search the premises after claiming to have observed someone sell US dollars there, Kien said.

Kien rejected the request as the two men were not wearing police uniforms and did not produce any identification.

A police officer then walked into the shop, introducing himself as deputy head of an investigation team with Binh Thanh Police Department.

The officer produced a search warrant signed by Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, chairwoman of Binh Thanh District People’s Committee, dated April 23.

Kien described their actions as a search for a criminal.

“Around 30 police officers surrounded our shop and began searching all seven floors of the house.

“Mai (who was upstairs) and I were too terrified and could not figure out what was happening.”

He noted that the search warrant was signed a day before the raid.

Kien said the shop’s lawyer is collecting evidence to request a written apology from Binh Thanh Police.

“We are demanding that the police return more than $14,000 and other equipment,” he said.

He added that the shop had yet to demand compensation caused by the suspension of their business activities.

“Mai must be taken care of before we can calculate the damages,” he said.

Illegal search?

Mai told Thanh Nien that Binh Thanh police confiscated cash that her children had given her as gifts.

According to the law, police can only confiscate US dollars used in illegal trading.

Lawyer Nguyen Duc Chanh of Duc Chanh Law Firm said police can only search a home based on evidence that it is being used for illegal purposes.

“They just cannot raid a private home based on an allegation that a young man allegedly sold $100 to a shop on the ground floor.

“What's more, they produced a search warrant that was signed a day before they allegedly observed the illegal act.”

Lawyer Ha Hai of the HCMC Bar Association told Thanh Nien it was illegal for police to rummage through a house and confiscate all those dollars because the funds were not earned through illegal trading.

“It is not against the law for a gold shop to store foreign currencies,” he said.

Hai also said the police can only confiscate foreign currency used in illegal trading.

Under Vietnamese law, if the authorities fail to prove that confiscated foreign currency was earned via illegal trading, they must return the money to its owner within 10 days of the seizure.

For complicated cases that require lengthier investigations, the seized foreign currency can be kept by authorities for no more than two months.

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