Vietnam prosecutors extend investigation into $190 mln scam

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Vietnam's highest prosecutors' office has ordered a more extensive investigation before agreeing to charge 17 people for cheating local banks and companies out of nearly VND4 trillion (US$190.59 million) in a recent scandal.

Last year end, Ministry of Public Security inspectors proposed that the Supreme People's Procuracy ratify charges of fraud, abuse of power, and credit loan violations against a group of people thought to have conspired in the fraud case, including bank officials.

The group was allegedly led by Huynh Thi Huyen Nhu, 35, a former deputy chief of the office of risk management at Vietinbank's Ho Chi Minh City branch.

According to inspectors' findings, Nhu led others in the forging of bank seals and documents in order to swindle some VND3.986 trillion between March 2010 and September 2011.

The money came from deposits at three banks, including Asia Commercial Bank (ACB), nine companies and three individuals at the Vietinbank branch and another branch in Nha Be District, also in HCMC.

Six former senior managers of ACB Nguyen Duc Kien, a co-founder, Ly Xuan Hai, former CEO, Tran Xuan Gia, former chairman, and former deputy chairmen Trinh Kim Quang, Le Vu Ky, and Pham Trung Cang are under investigation to determine their involvement.

However, inspectors have yet to propose charges against them until they complete an investigation into the accused's wrongdoings in another case.

The ACB leaders stand accused of illegally approving the deposit of nearly VND719 billion ($34.17 million) in ACB funds at two Vietinbank branchs in and around HCMC between June and September 2011. The deposited money were later pocketed by Nhu.

Banks are prohibited by Vietnamese law to deposit funds at other banks in order to earn interest.

A December 15 Tuoi Tre (Youth) report said the leaders ordered 19 employees to deposit the money in 19 different private accounts so it could not be traced back to ACB.

The deposits earned an annual interest rate of 14 percent plus an additional 3.7-13 percent not mentioned in the contract, a fact that also raises legal questions.

The State Bank of Vietnam had set the interest rate ceiling, including promotional rates, at 14 percent a year, at that time.

In fact, between May 2010 and November 2011, ACB had deposited over VND36.322 trillion ($1.73 billion) at 29 banks across the country with annual interest rates of 11.2-27 percent a year, according to Tuoi Tre. They also deposited more than $71 million with the rates of 3-6 percent, it added.

The ACB leaders were also allegedly involved in illegal business activities and fraud at ACB and three companies where Kien served as board chairman - B&B Trade and Investment Joint Stock Company, ACB Hanoi Investment Joint Stock Company and Asia Financial Investment Ltd., Co.

Kien and Hai were arrested in August last year after Hai stepped down from his post prior to the arrest. Meanwhile, Gia, Ky, and Quang, resigned from their posts two weeks before police investigations got underway.

Cang, who quit ACB and joined Vietnam Export Import Bank (Eximbank) in 2010, also resigned as Eximbank's deputy chairman around the same time.

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