A Vietnamese tycoon linked to Singapore’s Viva Land, who has has partnered with Li Ka-Shing’s CK Asset, was arrested by police in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday on charges of swindling investors out of trillions of Vietnamese dong. (VND 1 trillion equals approximately $41 million).
Truong My Lan, founder and chairwoman of private investment firm Van Thinh Phat Group Joint Stock Company (VTP), along with three associates, is accused of illegally issuing financial instruments and fraudulently collecting funds from investors from 2018 through 2019, the country’s Ministry of Public Security said in a statement on Saturday.
A report today by Thanh Nien, a news publication controlled by the youth wing of Vietnam’s communist party, identifies Van Thinh Phat, which controls a Ho Chi Minh City-focused portfolio of hotels, malls, apartments and offices, as the parent company of local real estate firm Viva Land Management & Development JSC, which shares management with Viva Land Group Holdings in Singapore, a company that continued a string of big ticket acquisitions in the Lion City in May this year with its S$240 million ($173 million) pickup of the So/Singapore hotel in Raffles Place.
Local news reports have noted that under the leadership of Truong, who is also known as Truong Muoi, Van Thinh Phat has in recent years issued trillions of Vietnamese dong in high interest, private bonds, with the amount that it has promised to investors through these instruments far exceeding the group’s recent annual revenues, potentially indicating a Ponzi scheme.
‘Unrelated’ Vivas Share Leadership
While representatives of Viva Land in Singapore have denied any connection with Viva Land in Vietnam and with Van Thinh Phat, former CapitaLand executive Lian Pang Chen joined HCMC-based Viva Land as chairman when it was founded in 2020, and is also registered as the sole director of Viva Land in Singapore, according to government records. During Chen’s tenure, Viva Land’s Vietnam operation has acquired a pair of HCMC projects from Truong’s empire.
In response to earlier inquiries from Mingtiandi, representatives of Singapore-based Viva Land Group stated that the company is not related to Vietnam’s Viva Land, and shares no ownership to the company.
Chen, who led Capitaland’s Vietnam business from 2013 through December 2021, according to his LinkedIn profile, also became chairman of Viva Land in August 2020, the same year that the company was established.
Public records also show Chen, who spent 25 years at CapitaLand Group and its predecessors, serving as an advisor and director of Viva Land in Singapore, where Alfred Ong, who spent 24 years at CapitaLand’s Ascott residential division, was appointed as a managing director in April of this year.
Eddie Lim, who serves as chief executive officer of the Vietnam-based entity, spent 14 years at CapitaLand’s Ascott division and nearly a decade overseeing the group’s retail projects.
While industry sources in Singapore have hinted that Truong, 66, is the ultimate controller of Viva Land in the city, representatives of the company have denied any such connections.
Since VTP’s Truong was arrested, all details of Viva Land’s management have been deleted from the company’s website.
The same representatives of Viva Land in Singapore also identified the company as the actual buyer of the SO/ Singapore hotel and Robinson Point office tower in Singapore, as well as of Capital Place in Hanoi, despite earlier statements that Viva Land Vietnam had purchased the office tower near the West Lake.
When Viva Land purchased Capital Place from CapitaLand in January of this year for a reported $550 million, a statement from the Vietnamese entity identified Viva Land Management & Development JSC as the buyer. However, representatives of Viva Land in Singapore now say that earlier statement was incorrect.
While Van Thinh Phat has never publicly claimed ownership of of Viva Land in Vietnam, the property investment firm has purchased two major properties from VTP in its two year existence.
In late 2021, Viva Land bought the Saigon One Tower, a derelict project in Saigon’s District 1 from VTP, and later renamed the building, which is valued at VND 5 trillion, as the IFC One Tower. After standing half-completed since 2011, the mixed-use complex is now expected to be completed next year.
Viva Land then went on to acquire the twin-tower Spirit of Saigon project near Ben Thanh market, an estimated VND 12 trillion development, from investors with connections to VTP entities.
Since Truong was arrested, all project and portfolio information has been removed from Viva Land’s website, which now consists of solely a home page.
Arrested over the weekend together with Truong were Truong Hue Van, 34, managing director of Windsor Property Management Group JSC, which the police linked to Truong and VTP; and Ho Buu Phuong, 50, former chairman of Hanoi-based financial service provider Tan Viet Securities JSC, who had previously worked at VTP and Nguyen Phuong Hong, 38, an assistant at VTP.
“Currently, the investigative bureau of the Ministry of Public Security is investigating and clarifying the criminal acts of the accused, expanding the investigation of the case and recovering assets,” the police statement read.
Windsor Property Management is one of three companies, along with Viva Land and Sunny World Group, which are listed on VTP’s website as the company’s partners.
VTP reportedly issued at least VND 10 trillion in high-yielding domestic bonds between June 2021 and February 2022 despite reporting losses and zero revenues in 2019 and 2020. Established as a restaurant and hotel operator in 1991 before shifting to real estate in recent years, VTP reportedly more than doubled its registered capital from VND 6 trillion to VND 13 billion in 2019, and declared total assets as of the end of that year of VND 15.5 trillion.
A number of VTP subsidiaries and affiliates have also been aggressively raising funds via the domestic bond market including Quang Thuan Investment JSC, which raised about VND 10.5 trillion from 2018 through 2020 despite minimal profits, based on local media reports.
Among VTP’s properties in HCMC are Times Square – a 39-storey residential, hospitality and office tower, the Union Square shopping mall, the 203-room Hotel Duxton and the VTP Office Building – all located in District 1.
The Vietnamese government has been cracking down on illicit fund raising practices related to the property market this year, including arresting billionaire Trinh Van Quyet in March, with his development company Tan Hoang Minh Group putting projects up for sale soon thereafter.
Hong Kong Connections
With Truong’s husband, investor Eric Chu Nap Kee operating from Hong Kong, VTP has also linked up with Li Ka-shing’s CK Asset, which along with Japanese investment firm Orix, met with HCMC mayor Phan Van Mai in April of this year to discuss investment opportunities in the city.
At the meeting, local press reports indicated that CK Asset director Justin Chiu pointed to Truong’s company as integral to its investment plans in the southern Vietnamese metropolis.
“We place a lot of trust and expectation when investing here, partly because of the assurance of our local partner, Van Thinh Phat Group,” Chiu was quoted as saying. “In the past few days, we had the opportunity to survey the projects of Van Thinh Phat Group in Ho Chi Minh City and were completely convinced.”
Eric Chu, who is said to be of Vietnamese-Chinese origin like his wife, in 2018 snatched up a site in Quarry Bay, Hong Kong island for HK$678 million, shortly after spending HK$3 billion to acquire The Wellington office tower in Sheung Wan.
In 2009 Chu purchased the Nexxus building in Hong Kong’s Central district for HK$3.6 billion.