Arrest of Vietnamese Businesswoman reveals murky links with China

The arrest of 66 year old Troung My Lan, Chairwoman of Van Thinh Phat Holding Group Corporation (a Vietnamese diversified investment group) by Ministry of Public Security (MPS) in Ho Chi Minh city has again brought the Chinese connections with business tycoons in Vietnam, especially in the real estate sector, to limelight. Lan established the Van Thinh Phat Co. in 1992 operating in the fields of commerce and hospitality, which then expanded to the real estate sector. Van Thinh Phat group owns plots and building in prime locations dubbed as ‘golden land’ in Ho Chi Minh city including the Thuan Kien Plaza; plots in Times square and some buildings along the Nguyen Hue road.

Lan, a businesswoman, is a Chinese Vietnamese. She is the second richest woman in Vietnam. Her husband is a Cantonese Chinese named Chu Nap Kee and deals in real estate business. He is reportedly a distant family member of former disgraced Chinese security tsar Zhou Yongkang and maintains strong ties with senior party functionaries in China. Unnatural death of three senior executives belonging to the Van Thinh Phat group during the first few days of October 2022 has also raised speculations of Chinese involvement in the case. Fifty year old Chairman and CEO of Tan Viet Securities died of sudden heart stroke on October 6, followed by suicide of one of the assistants of Lan two days after being arrested. On October 11, Luu Quoc Thang, head of the check and review committee of SCB Bank, which is owned by Van Thinh Phat group died mysteriously.

According to the MPS, Lan and her other two accomplices have allegedly committed fraud in the issuance and trading of bonds in order to appropriate thousands of billions of Vietnamese Dong of investors in the 2018-2019 period. This arrest of Lan has sent ripples in Vietnam’s stock market and will seriously impact the economic performance of the country in the fourth quarter of this year. This is the lowest level the Vietnamese stock market has reached in 15 years.

Due to sensitivities of Chinese involvement, the Vietnamese authorities have banned media houses from publishing this story and have attributed the deaths to natural causes. It is a known fact in Vietnam that there is a strong network of Chinese spies and almost all important set ups are infiltrated by these operatives who do not fear taking extreme actions like poisoning the opponents. In this case, the general assumption is that the three people have been eliminated by Chinese spies to save Ms Lan as they had proof of all her misdoings. It is also rumored that death of Vietnam’s former President Tran Dai Quang was also linked to the Chinese. Tran had died in 2018 while holding the post of President. He was apparently given USD one billion by Ms Lan as bribe but he did not further the Chinese interest. According to senior doctors who were handling his case, no investigations could point out what disease he was suffering from and it appeared to be a case of poisoning.

There is large number of Chinese Vietnamese in Ho Chi Minh City and most of them have connections in the mainland China. Many of the properties at prime and strategic locations in Ho Chi Minh are bought by these Chinese Vietnamese businessmen and presumably at the behest of their masters in China. Like Ho Chi Minh city, the Chinese have also acquired properties at strategic locations in other parts of Vietnam, including the coastal city of Danang which has open access to the strategic South China Sea.

With the objective of preventing purchase of land at strategic locations by Chinese nationals, the government of Vietnam had passed a resolution that no land along the coast of Danang can be purchased by a foreigner. However, the Chinese have circumvented this clause by either marrying a local Vietnamese or funding a Vietnamese to buy land along the coast. Similarly, Chinese businessmen have also bought large swank of properties in the strategically located Van Don Island in the Gulf of Tonkin in South China Sea. Few years back, there was a protest by Vietnamese people against a proposed SEZ by China in this island. Due to protests the proposal was dropped and instead Chinese opted for purchasing land in the island.

Beijing is known for using corrupt leaders/businessmen of economically weak countries to make inroads into those nations. This enables Chinese State to not only further its business interest in these countries but also surreptitiously penetrate the nation’s polity, with the objective to ensure its long-term influence.