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A woman has received a death sentence in the largest fraud trial in Vietnam's history


The largest fraud case in Vietnam's history ended this week with a death sentence. The woman at the center of the trial is a real estate tycoon. And even in a country where capital punishment is not unusual, this case appears to be a turning point. Aniruddha Ghosal is covering the story for the Associated Press and joins us from Hanoi. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Who is the woman at the center of this case, and what did she do?

GHOSAL: So Truong My Lan is a high-profile businesswoman who chaired a sprawling company that developed, among other things, luxury apartments, hotels, offices, shopping malls. And she's been at the heart of Vietnam's financial world for several years now. And she started out - she had pretty humble starts. She started out helping her mother run her cosmetics business. And it wasn't until 1992, when Vietnam's economy was opening up, when she basically started the company which would become Van Thinh Phat, the real estate company that she is now - she was the chairperson of until her arrest. It's today linked to some of Ho Chi Minh City's most valuable downtown properties, including a glittering 39-story building which is sort of synonymous with modernity in Ho Chi Minh City and a five-star hotel where she lived until her arrest.

SHAPIRO: What is her crime?

GHOSAL: So she was arrested for a case of fraud. The fraud sort of amounts to $12.5 billion. That works out to nearly 3% of the country's 2022 GDP. And the other part of her sort of - the crime was that she illegally controlled a major Vietnamese bank and effectively allowed the bank to give loans to close companies, shadow companies that she's convicted of having set up. And these loans would then be redirected to her and her company. And those result in a loss of $27 billion.

SHAPIRO: Now, Vietnam has one of the highest rates of death sentences in the world. So what makes the outcome of this case unusual?

GHOSAL: So there's several laws under which you can be sentenced to death, but it's still really unusual for a case of financial fraud to result in a death sentence. It's been several years since that's been the case.

SHAPIRO: It's typically more violent crimes, yeah?

GHOSAL: Yeah. It's murder, (inaudible), treason, child rape, crimes like that. That's not to say that there isn't a legal provision for financial fraud cases to lead to a death penalty, but it needs to be especially severe, and it - this case was judged to be that.

SHAPIRO: Well, how does this fit into the government's larger crackdown on corruption?

GHOSAL: So analysts are saying that this is a turning point. This is a turning point, not just because of the scale of the case. It's the first death penalty in the anti-corruption campaign. It's the first death penalty against somebody from the private world of business. And it's this sort of escalation where the anti-corruption campaign has now been going on for a decade. It started in 2013, under the leadership of Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. And Nguyen Phu Trong has made the anti-corruption campaign his hallmark. He's an ideologue who believes that corruption is the biggest threat facing the party in Vietnam right now. And it's sort of creating a lot of confusion amongst the business community in Vietnam, to say the least.

SHAPIRO: How are people in Vietnam reacting? I mean, you say there's confusion in the business community. How is this generally viewed?

GHOSAL: It's an interesting dichotomy because there's been some surveys that's been - that have been conducted which seem to indicate that there are mixed results. Generally, the view is that people asking for bribes has gone down. But in terms of whether people feel that the government is serious about stopping corruptions (ph), that's less sure. There's less clarity about that. Let's put it that way.

SHAPIRO: Aniruddha Ghosal is a reporter with the Associated Press in Hanoi. Thank you very much.

GHOSAL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Sarah Handel
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Rafael Nam
Rafael Nam is NPR's senior business editor.
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.