|Phạm Thị Bích Lương in court yesterday. — Photo hanoimoi.com.vn|
HÀ NỘI — The Hà Nội People’s High Court started hearing an appeal yesterday on a high-profile corruption and economic mismanagement case at the State-owned Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Agribank) which resulted in the loss of over VNĐ2.425 trillion (US$106.6 million).
The case involves 18 defendants, 13 of whom are former Agribank officials, while four others are former customs officers and one is a former company director.
In a trial last December, Phạm Thị Bích Lương, 47, former director of the bank’s South Hà Nội Branch was identified by the Hà Nội People’s Court as the principal defendant.
She was sentenced to 30 years in jail for violating lending regulations and abusing her position. She was also found as having joint responsibility in the misappropriation of VNĐ1.6 trillion from the bank and ordered to pay back this amount.
Former Agribank General Director Phạm Thanh Tân received a 22-year sentence. Sixteen other defendants were handed between 30 months to 30 years imprisonment.
Five foreigners, including a Chinese national, three Canadians and one Italian, were alleged to have misappropriated assets from Agribank’s South Hà Nội branch but they fled Việt Nam and the investigation against them was suspended.
According to the ruling by the court, Canadian Ahmed El Fehdi and four other foreigners who hold important positions at the Enzo Viet Joint Stock Company, later renamed as Lifepro Việt Nam Joint Venture Company, connived with the Vietmade Joint Stock Company and the Lifepro Viet Nam Joint Stock Company to make up “ghost projects” to seek loans from the bank and appropriated more than VNĐ2.425 trillion from 2007 to 2011.
As the director of South Hà Nội branch, Lương asked Agribank’s board of directors to raise her authority to approve loans, sign mortgage contracts and disburse loans that the branch had provided for these projects.
Lương was identified as directing the compilation of a dossier seeking more authority to approve loans for the Lifepro Viet Nam Company based only on the information given by the firm without conducting background checks. She also intentionally ignored loan disbursement conditions set by Agribank’s board of directors for the supply of foreign currency loans in verification and disbursement processes of loans for the Lifepro Việt Nam Joint Venture Company.
She also failed to ensure strict inspections of how the money was to be used, and thus failed to figure out that her branch was cheated by the Lifepro Việt Nam Joint Venture Company.
After the first court appearance, Lương and a former official at Hà Tây Customs branch, appealed against the ruling. Sixteen others petitioned for relaxing their penalties; however one has withdrawn the petition.
At the court yesterday, Lương appealed against the whole content of the initial ruling, saying that what she did was in accordance with her position and responsibility.
Twenty lawyers defended the defendants in court yesterday, with Lương hiring three lawyers, the highest number.
The trial is expected to last for a week. — VNS