A co-conspirator also received life in prison after a month-long trial involving 51 bankers and traders in an anti-corruption drive that critics claim is targeting political enemies of the communist elite.
Analysts say that the crackdown, while tackling corruption, has also mainly targeted opponents of Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (pictured).
The scandal apparently led to losses of US$69 million.
Ex-Ocean Bank general director Nguyen Xuan Son, who later became chairman of the state oil firm PetroVietnam, was sentenced to death for embezzlement, abuse of power and mismanagement.
Vietnam is one of the world’s most frequent executioners, according to Amnesty International. But this case is believed to be the first time in years that the death penalty has been given to such a high-profile figure.
The bank’s ex-chairman Ha Van Tham, once one of Vietnam’s richest men, was jailed for life on the same charges, and for breaching lending rules. He was convicted of illegally approving a US$23-million loan in 2012.
Also mentioned in the ruling was PetroVietnam’s acquisition of a US$35-million stake in the bank. It was subsequently written off when Vietnam’s central bank bought Ocean Bank for nothing in 2015.
“Tham and Son’s behaviour is very serious, infringing on the management of state [resources] and causing public grievances, which requires strict punishment,” Judge Truong Viet Toan said, while announcing the verdict.
The other sentences announced during the week included 22 years in prison and re-education programmes.
The scandal broke Ocean Bank, which had been part of the Ocean Group that controls real estate and hotel subsidiaries and enjoyed a dramatic rise after it was founded in 2007. It was valued at US$500 million in 2013 under Tham’s control.
The Ocean Group still controls real estate, hotels and services and was valued at US$3.5 million last year.
Vietnam was ranked 113th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index. However, its economy surged more than 7 per cent in the third quarter, according to data.
Vietnam has been one of Asean’s best performing economies in recent years, fuelled largely by exports of goods like Samsung phones and Nike shoes.
The middle class is also rapidly expanding among the 93 million population, increasing domestic spending across many sectors.
Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. Picture credit: Kremlin