Vietnam court upholds key decision in country's biggest-ever fraud case

HANOI (REUTERS) - A Vietnamese court has upheld a key judgement in the country's biggest-ever fraud case, a lawyer for one of the victims told Reuters, in a trial that has spotlighted Vietnam's ability to tackle financial crime at a time when foreign banks are heeding government calls to invest.

The Ho Chi Minh City People's High Court ruled on Wednesday (May 30) to uphold a judgement that the central perpetrator of a 4.9 trillion dong (S$288.28 million) theft is responsible for returning some of the stolen money, rather than the individual's employer at the time, state-controlled VietinBank.

The ruling comes as financial firms such as investment banks and global buyout funds flock to Vietnam, hoping to capitalise on a period of privatisation and capital-raising deals in the fast-growing emerging South-east Asian economy.

The chief executive of one victim, depositor Saigonbank Berjaya Securities JSC (SBBS) - a unit of Malaysia's Berjaya Corporation Bhd - also confirmed Wednesday's verdict.

Ms Josephine Yei told Reuters earlier that if the ruling was upheld, she had little hope of recouping her bank's US$10 million (S$13.45 million) from the perpetrator, who was sentenced to life imprisonment.

VietinBank, formally Vietnam Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade, did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

A VietinBank lawyer said the bank had instructed its lawyers not to comment.

Majority owner State Bank of Vietnam - the country's central bank - could not provide immediate comment.