Ex-Vietnam MP jailed for stealing S$21.7m housing deposits

HANOI (AFP) - A former Vietnamese lawmaker has been sentenced to life in prison for fraud after she pocketed US$16 million (S$21.7 million) in down-payments from would-be homeowners when she was a real estate developer, a court clerk said Tuesday (Oct 17).

Chau Thi Thu Nga is the latest to be punished as part of a government anti-corruption sweep targeting current and former officials, bankers and executives in the communist state.

As chairwoman of the private Housing Group company, Nga sold hundreds of apartments to prospective homeowners starting from 2009, though the project was not licensed and the properties were never built.

The 52-year-old, who later became a parliamentarian, was convicted of selling the apartments "on paper only", according to the verdict reported by state-controlled VNExpress.

She was found guilty on Monday and sentenced to life in prison, a court clerk confirmed to AFP Tuesday. Nine accomplices were also convicted and given penalties ranging from a three years' suspended sentence to seven years in jail.

The court ordered Nga to repay the victims she scammed.

Nga was a member of Vietnam's rubber-stamp parliament from 2011 until her arrest in 2015, when she was stripped of her post.

Vietnam is one of the most corrupt countries in Southeast Asia, though its ranking on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index improved last year for the first time since 2012.

The current leadership has targeted high-flying executives and officials in an attempt to clean up business and party ranks and polish the country's image.

Last month, 51 bankers and businessmen were convicted in a massive fraud case involving Ocean Bank, including former general director Nguyen Xuan Son who was sentenced to death for causing losses worth millions of dollars.

Several other senior officials from state oil giant PetroVietnam are being investigated in connection with the case.

The communist nation brazenly cast its net overseas in August when Vietnamese security agents allegedly kidnapped Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former state oil executive, from a Berlin park.

Hanoi says he returned to the country and handed himself over to police voluntarily, but the case has sparked a diplomatic row with Berlin, which expelled Vietnamese diplomats.

Analysts say the current purge is as much about eliminating political enemies as it is about tackling corruption.