Truong My Lan sentenced to death in Vietnam’s largest-ever fraud case

ietnamese property tycoon Truong My Lan (C) looks on at a court in Ho Chi Minh city on April 11, 2024.

Truong My Lan, a real estate tycoon in Vietnam, was sentenced to death on Thursday in the country’s largest financial fraud case ever, state media Vietnam Net said. 

Lan, 67, was the chair of the real estate company Van Thinh Phat and was formally charged with fraud that amounted to $12.5 billion, which is nearly 3% of the entire country’s 2022 GDP. 

Lan’s harsh punishment is not uncommon in Vietnam, but it is rare in financial crime cases, according to The Associated Press. 

Her niece, Truong Hue Van, the chief executive of Van Thinh Phat, was also sentenced to 17 years in prison for aiding her aunt.

Who is Truong My Lan? 

Lan was born in 1956 and started out helping sell cosmetics with her mother, a Chinese businesswoman, in Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest market, according to state media, Tien Phong. 

She and her family established the Van Thinh Phat company in 1992, when Vietnam shed its state-run economy in favor of a more market-oriented one that was open to foreigners. Over the years, VTP grew to become one of Vietnam’s richest real estate firms. 

Today, the company is linked to some of Ho Chi Minh’s most valuable downtown properties, including the glittering 39-story Times Square Saigon, the five-star Windsor Plaza Hotel, the 37-story Capital Place office building and the five-star Sherwood Residence hotel where Lan lived until her arrest. 

Lan is married to Hong Kong investor Eric Chu Nap-kee and they have two daughters.

What is Lan accused of? 

Lan was involved in the 2011 merger of Saigon Joint Commercial Bank, or SCB, with two others in a plan coordinated by Vietnam’s central bank. 

She is accused of using the bank as her cash cow, illegally controlling it between 2012 to 2022, and using thousands of "ghost companies" in Vietnam and abroad to give loans to herself and her allies, according to government documents. 

The loans resulted in losses of $27 billion, state media VN Express reported Thursday. 

She was accused of paying bribes to government officials –- including a former central official who has been sentenced to life in prison for taking $5.2 million in bribes –- and violating banking regulations, government documents said. 

The court sentenced her to death, saying her actions "not only violate the property management rights of individuals but also pushed SCB into a state of special control, eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the (Communist) party and state."

A case that shocked the nation

Lan's arrest in October 2022 was among the most high-profile in an ongoing anti-corruption drive in Vietnam that has intensified since 2022. The so-called Blazing Furnace campaign has touched the highest echelons of Vietnamese politics. Former President Vo Van Thuong even resigned in March after being implicated in the campaign. 

Analysts said the scale of the scam raised questions about whether other banks or businesses had similarly erred, dampening Vietnam’s economic outlook and making foreign investors jittery at a time when Vietnam has been trying to position itself as the ideal home for businesses trying to pivot their supply chains away from China. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.