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Vietnam banking tycoon given 30-year jail term

A Vietnamese court on Monday sentenced a disgraced banking tycoon to 30 years in jail over a multi-million dollar scandal that shocked the nation's already fragile financial markets.

HANOI: A Vietnamese court on Monday sentenced a disgraced banking tycoon to 30 years in jail over a multi-million dollar scandal that shocked the nation's already fragile financial markets.

Nguyen Duc Kien, 50, was found guilty of fraud, tax evasion, illegal trade and "deliberate wrongdoing causing serious consequences," according to the verdict read at the Hanoi People's Court.

Kien -- a shareholder in some of Vietnam's largest financial institutions and a founder of Asia Commercial Bank (ACB) -- and his accomplices were accused of causing losses of $67 million through illegal cross-bank deposits and investments.

He denied the charges against him, but was imprisoned for three decades and handed a 75 billion dong ($3.5 million) fine.

"The accused was not honest and so must be given serious punishment in line with his crime," court president Nguyen Huu Chinh said at the end of the two-week trial Monday.

Kien appeared in the dock Monday wearing a white shirt and dark trousers, surrounded by policemen, looking calm and at times wryly amused as legal officials read the lengthy verdict against him.

"Using sophisticated and cunning measures and abusing loopholes in the law (the defendants) raised money under false pretences and had that money flowing from bank-to-bank," the court president said.

In so doing, Kien and his co-defendants "monopolised domestic financial and monetary markets, adversely affecting the state's financial market management policy," he said, adding there could have been "very serious" consequences had the government not intervened when it did.

The flamboyant multi-millionaire was on trial alongside seven other defendants, all top bankers at ACB, which counts global banking giant Standard Chartered as one of its "strategic partners".

The other defendants were also present in court Monday, wearing dark blue uniforms provided by police.

They were given sentences of between two and eight years. The most senior of the other defendants, the former director of ACB, Ly Xuan Hai, received eight years.

The stiff terms were served as a warning to other bankers and finance professionals, the court president added.

After the verdict was announced, the defendants were handcuffed, led from the court and driven away in a police convoy.

Most of the cash vanished when Kien ordered his staff to make deposits at the Vietnam Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade (Vietinbank).

An employee from that bank has already been sentenced to life imprisonment for fraud.

Kien was also found guilty of forging documents to defraud the top steel firm Hoa Phat Group of $12.5 million.

"While the sentences are intended to send a signal, real solutions to corruption in Vietnam will require systemic reforms of a sort still unseen," said Professor Jonathan London at City University of Hong Kong.

"Without more transparent, accountable institutions, corruption of this sort will continue to slow and distort Vietnam's economic development."

The banker rose to public prominence as a vocal critic of corruption in Vietnamese football, using his role as chairman of Hanoi Football Club to sound off against Vietnam's Football Federation.

When Kien was arrested in August 2012 it sent "shockwaves across the country", state media reported at the time, and caused ACB's share price to plunge.

Some experts interpreted the arrest of the high-profile banker as part of bitter infighting within the ruling Communist Party.

Kien had been seen as an ally of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and has become the subject of intense speculation on blogs over his business dealings with Dung's daughter.

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