Vietnam upholds life sentence in largest-ever white collar case

By Le Nga, Thanh Nien News

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Huynh Thi Huyen Nhu (center), former head of the Dien Bien Phu office of Vietinbank in Ho Chi Minh City, being escorted out of a courtroom on January 7, 2015. Photo: Le Nga Huynh Thi Huyen Nhu (center), former head of the Dien Bien Phu office of Vietinbank in Ho Chi Minh City, being escorted out of a courtroom on January 7, 2015. Photo: Le Nga

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An appeals court in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday sustained the life sentence against a former Vietinbank executive who was convicted of embezzling VND4 trillion (US$190 million), the largest white-collar case in the country's history.
At the conclusion of her two-week trial, the Supreme People’s Court affirmed the conviction of 37-year old Huynh Thi Huyen Nhu's for embezzlement and fraud.
According to the indictment, Nhu, the former head of the Dien Bien Phu office of Vietinbank in HCMC, borrowed more than VND200 billion ($9.3 million) in 2007 from other banks, companies and individuals to finance real estate deals.
She claimed to be raising funds on the bank's behalf.
Nhu continued to borrow money at high interest rates and had amassed millions of dollars in debt by 2010.
Between March 2010 and September 2011, she convinced many banks, companies and individuals to deposit money at two Vietinbank branches in HCMC by offering annual interest rates of between 18 and 19 percent -- well above the 14 percent cap set by the central bank.
Nhu forged myriad company stamps and seals as well as the signature of Vietinbank managers and deposit-holders to steal VND3.98 trillion from three branches, nine companies and three individuals.
The court found she used the proceeds of that crime to attempt to repay her debts. 
During her trial, Nhu pleaded guilty but appealed for the return of a VND43 billion ($2 million) villa in the central province of Quang Nam to her mother, Nguyen Thi Lang.
The court rejected Nhu’s request, saying that Nhu bought the house with stolen money.
According to the ruling, the home will be auctioned and the proceeds returned to Nhu's victims.
In January, the court of first instance sentenced Nhu’s 23 accomplices (former Vietinbank executives and employees as well as the loan sharks who lent her money at usurious rates) to sentences ranging from a year of time-served to 20 years in prison.
They were convicted of embezzlement, “abuse of power”, "violating lending regulations”, gross professional negligence and lending at inflated rates.
Twenty of the convicts appealed for leniency, but the resulting trials only reduced their sentences by six months to ten years for a dozen of the defendants.
Vietinbank’s liability
The court of first instance cleared state-run Vietinbank (Vietnam Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade) of any liability and ordered Nhu to return all of the misappropriated funds.
Two private banks -- ACB and Navibank, and five companies -- Oriental Securities, SaigonBank Berjara Securities, Hung Yen, Global Insurance, and An Loc appealed the decision and asked that Vietinbank be held responsible for their losses.
The appeals court rejected ACB and Navibank’s requests, after finding their arrangements with Vietinbank illegal and invalid.
The courts also noted that the two banks were not plaintiffs in the scam.
In 2011, ACB executives ordered their staff to deposit nearly VND719 billion ($34 million) at Vietinbank as individuals to earn 14 percent annual interest plus an additional 3.8-4.5 percent.
Navibank's leaders agreed to the same terms and deposited VND200 billion ($9 million) at Vietinbank in 2010 and 2011.
The court said these two banks were well aware that banks in Vietnam are prohibited from depositing money in other banks to accrue interest and the central bank had set a 14 percent interest rate cap during that period.
But they still violated the regulations, the jury found.
In the case of ACB and Navibank, Nhu was found guilty of fraud, the jury said.
But the court agreed to meet the compensation requests of the five said companies.
These companies legally deposited a total of VND1 billion ($47 million) at Vietinbank and because Nhu stole Vietinbank’s money, the court held it liable for the missing funds.
On Wednesday, the court called on prosecutors to launch a new investigation into Nhu’s crime.
“Vietinbank’s loose management enabled Nhu to take this sum, and it must be held liable for the [companies'] lost money,” the court ruled on Wednesday.

The appeals court asked the central police to investigate two former deputy directors of Vietinbank’s HCMC branch, Truong Minh Hoang and Nguyen Thi Minh Huong, for gross professional negligence.

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