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Vietnamese Real Estate Tycoon Sentenced to Death in $12 Billion Fraud Case

Truong My Lan, a Vietnamese real estate tycoon, was sentenced to death on Thursday for her role in a financial fraud case, in a major display of the ruling Communist Party’s resolve to crack down on corruption.

A court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Ms. Lan, who was arrested in 2022 and faced charges of bribing government officials, violating banking regulations and embezzling more than $12 billion from one of Vietnam’s largest banks.

The trial for Ms. Lan, who was the chairwoman of the real estate developer Van Thinh Phat Group, was part of the government’s campaign against corruption. The leader of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, has sought for years to stamp out corruption as the nation emerges as a major manufacturing hub and as one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies.

Mr. Trong launched the anti-corruption drive in 2016, saying that graft could threaten the survival of the Communist Party, which has governed the country for nearly half a century. The campaign has led to the downfall of many business leaders and top officials, including former President Vo Van Thuong, who resigned in March amid corruption allegations.

Ms. Lan, 67, who is eligible to appeal the verdict within 15 days under Vietnam’s criminal code, has denied the charges throughout the court proceedings. In Vietnam, a range of offenses carry the death penalty, including violent crimes, economic crimes, drug trafficking and sexual abuse.

The main charges against Ms. Lan involved her embezzling money from Saigon Commercial Bank between 2018 and 2022, for which a panel of judges sentenced her to death. But the court also sentenced her to 20 years in prison for each of the other two charges, bribery and banking law violation.

Prosecutors said that the total financial damages in her case amounted to $20 billion, or about 5 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic product, according to state news media. Ms. Lan’s lawyer, Duc Truong, declined to comment.

The court found that Ms. Lan held more than 91.5 percent of the bank’s shares, exercising “almost absolute control over the bank,” state news media reported. She used that control to withdraw staggering amounts from the bank through loan contracts, bribed officials to cover her wrongdoing and pushed the bank into a liquidity crisis, the court found.

Another 85 people have been charged in the case, including Ms. Lan’s husband, Eric Chu Nap-kee, a businessman who was sentenced to nine years in prison. Ms. Lan’s niece, Truong Hue Van, also received a 17-year prison sentence.

Ms. Lan founded Van Thinh Phat in 1992. Its portfolio includes hotels, such as the Windsor Plaza Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, and luxury apartment complexes, according to state media.

Before founding the company, Ms. Lan worked as a market stall vendor and sold cosmetics with her mother, the BBC reported. In 1986, when Vietnam opened up to a market economy in a period known as Doi Moi, or “renovation,” Ms. Lan began buying property and land, setting her on track to become an established business figure and one of the wealthiest women in the country.

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