Vietnamese real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced to death on Thursday, April 11, after being found guilty of fraud amounting to $12.5 billion, almost 3% of Vietnam’s 2022 GDP. The case marks the country’s most significant financial fraud case ever. 

According to state media Vn Express, Lan, 67, illegally controlled Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank from 2012 to 2022 and allowed 2,500 loans that resulted in the loss of $27 billion. The Ho Chi Minh City court asked her to compensate the bank $26.9 million. When she could not do so, the court alleged that it was due to her being at the head of a sophisticated criminal enterprise. With no possibility of the money being recovered and due to the seriousness of the situation, Lan was sentenced to death, despite this being her first offense and having participated in charity activities. 

Vn Express quoted the judgment statement relaying that her actions “not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organizations but also push SCB (Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank) into a state of special control, eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and State.”

Lan was also chair of the real estate company Van Thinh Phat, a family-run business established in 1992. Her career started when she helped her mother, a Chinese cosmetics saleswoman, sell products at Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest market. After founding Van Thinh Phat, Lan grew the company into one of Vietnam’s most profitable real estate firms that worked on projects like luxury residential buildings, offices, hotels, and shopping centers. This positioned her as a key player in Vietnam’s financial industry, and she organized the 2011 merger of SCB Bank with two other lenders in coordination with Vietnam’s central bank. 

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This merger was a central part of the court’s investigation. The court ruled that she used this approach to tap SCB for cash and that she indirectly owned more than 90% of the bank, a claim she denied. While the bank was under her ownership, Lan approved thousands of loans for ghost companies, which found their way back to her, according to government documents. 

Former central bank official Do Thi Nhan was sentenced to life in prison following his conviction of accepting $5.2 million in bribes from Lan to keep quiet about her activities. Her niece, Truong Hue Van, chief executive of Van Thinh Phat, was sentenced to seventeen years in prison for aiding Lan, while Lan’s husband, Eric Chu Nap-kee, was given nine years in prison.

Lan’s case is the most high-profile in a series of arrests that are part of an ongoing anti-corruption campaign in Vietnam. The Blazing Furnace Campaign affected many of Vietnam’s notable politicians and financial titans, including former president Vo Van Thuong, who resigned in March after being implicated. Lan’s trial has been the most shocking thus far, with the scale of the scam leading to questions about many other banks and businesses. It has been detrimental to the country’s economy, especially in the real estate sector, and made foreign investors rethink their strategies.