What to Know about the Real Estate Tycoon Sentenced to Death in Vietnam’s Largest Fraud Case

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Business woman Truong My Lan attends a trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on 11 April. (Thanh Tung/VnExpress via AP)

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Vietnamese real estate tycoon was sentenced to death Thursday in the country’s biggest ever financial fraud case, a shocking development in an intensifying anti-corruption drive in the southeast Asian nation.

Truong My Lan, a high-profile businesswoman who chaired a sprawling company that developed luxury apartments, hotels, offices and shopping malls, was arrested in 2022. The 67-year-old was formally charged with fraud amounting to USD 12.5 billion –- nearly 3 percent of the country’s 2022 GDP, as reported by Vietnamese state media.

Death sentences are not uncommon in Vietnam, but it is rare in financial crime cases and for someone this well known.

Here is a look at the key details of the case:

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 outlet 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 met her husband, Hong Kong investor Eric Chu Nap-kee, in 1992. They have two daughters.

WHAT IS SHE ACCUSED OF?

Lan was involved in the 2011 merger of the beleaguered Saigon Joint Commercial Bank, or SCB, with two other lenders 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 and 2022, and using thousands of “ghost companies” in Vietnam and abroad to give loans to herself and her allies, according to government documents.