Bank Case Reveals Vietnam’s Continued Corruption Problems

25 September, 2017

The Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security recently began investigating three companies under the state-owned gas and oil group PetroVietnam. The companies may have tried to divert more than $5 million from a Vietnamese financial institution called OceanBank.

The case has brought attention to Vietnam's continued problems with corruption, as the country experiences economic growth.

Frederick Burke is a lawyer with the firm Baker McKenzie in Ho Chi Minh City. He said, "In terms of corruption in Vietnam, I do think it's a serious problem here and I think the government recognizes that."

Experts say corruption could affect the country's continued economic growth. Vietnam's economy grew at least 5 percent each year between 2012 and 2016. Export manufacturing has been a main driver of the growth.

A woman stands in front of a branch of Ocean Bank located at the Petro Vietnam's building in Hanoi
A woman stands in front of a branch of Ocean Bank located at the Petro Vietnam's building in Hanoi

The nonprofit group Transparency International placed Vietnam at 113th out of 176 countries and areas that it studied in 2016 for perceptions of corruption. Most countries in the Asia-Pacific area placed in the lower half of the index.

The New York-based group Gan Integrity calls corruption "pervasive" -- or everywhere -- in Vietnam. It says companies are likely to face bribery, political interference and "facilitation payments" in many industries, especially in the fields of land development and construction.

Reasons for the corruption

Low salaries for government workers are one of the causes for corruption, said Trung Nguyen. He is the international relations dean at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Complex rules have also led companies to seek permitting shortcuts, another source of corruption, Nguyen said.

People with money or property sometimes hold back expansion to avoid getting involved in graft -- a dishonest activity in which people in power use their position to get money and advantages.

Nguyen said that Vietnamese may face graft when they ask government offices for documents or when police stop them in traffic. Such actions reduce citizens' trust in government services.

"I think it's very bad," Nguyen said. "I have so many friends and they don't want to open big businesses in Vietnam because they think that they will have to deal with the government, and they have to bribe them, and it violates their ethics and their principles."

PetroVietnam probe

The PetroVietnam case is part of a bigger issue at OceanBank, according to VNExpress. The English-language news website says more than 50,000 people and 400 organizations benefited from what lawyers call illegal interest payments totaling more than $70 million.

From 2010 to 2014, bank officials offered loans and set deposit rates above state-approved limits to some important customers, local media have reported. This included PetroVietnam.

VnExpress calls the case one of the biggest bank fraud problems ever brought to court in Vietnam.

Anti-corruption efforts

The government has tried to reduce corruption. In October 2016, the government gave an unusually honest report to the legislature, saying several officials had been "neglecting their duties and failing to uphold moral standards and political virtues," VnExpress reported.

But Transparency International says it sees little public information about the results of anti-corruption efforts.

Nguyen says he does not feel that Vietnam's top leaders are, in his words, "united in stopping the problem. I don't think they have political will to end corruption."

I'm Ashley Thompson.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

divert - v. to change the direction or use of (something)

perception - n. the way you think about or understand someone or something

index - n. an ordered list

pervasive - adj. existing in every part of something : spreading to all parts of something

bribery - n. the act or crime of giving or accepting a bribe.

bribe - v. something valuable (such as money) that is given in order to get someone to do something

dean - n. a person who is in charge of one of the parts of a university (such as a college or school)

shortcut - n. a quicker or easier way to do something

graft - n. dishonest activity in which people with power (such as political leaders) use their position and influence to get money and advantages

benefit - v. to be useful or helpful to (someone or something)

fraud - n. the crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person