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Hundreds of Millions Vanish from Bank Accounts in Hanoi

Customers of the Vietnam Maritime Bank's Thanh Xuan branch in Hanoi were shocked earlier this year to discover that over 338 billion dong (approximately 15 million USD) had disappeared from their savings accounts overnight. The incident has attracted significant public attention and raised concerns about the security of people's money in the banking system.

According to police reports, eight customers saw their accounts emptied of funds totalling 338 billion dong between January and October 2023. After several weeks of media coverage, the Hanoi Police Department arrested Ms. Bui Thi Hoai Anh, Director of the MSB Thanh Xuan branch, on charges of fraudulent appropriation related to the missing money.


One of the affected customers, 58-year old Ms. Nguyen Thi Lan from Hanoi, shared her story. She said she opened her account at MSB in early 2021 following a recommendation from a bank staff member who promised attractive interest rates. Ms. Lan deposited money in 1-2 week terms and would notify the bank one day in advance if she needed to withdraw principal or interest at maturity.

The first few deposits appeared correctly in her account, and she received full principal and interest payments on time. Feeling confident due to this, she recommenced several more deposits throughout 2021 and 2022. However, in late 2023 she stopped receiving the scheduled payments. Then in early October, police informed her that her account balance had been reduced to just 9,364 dong from the original nearly 60 billion dong.

Ms. Lan was devastated, saying she had lost all her family's savings and money from friends who had trusted her recommendation to deposit at MSB. Another victim, a colleague of Ms. Lan's who lost 27.7 billion dong, said she was anxiously waiting every day hoping to recover the money.

MSB has so far responded that the police investigation is ongoing and customers should liaise with investigating authorities. However, customers insist the bank is responsible for compensating lost funds since deposit slips bore the bank's stamp and signatures. They want the money returned urgently to avoid further financial and mental strain.

In October 2023, Major General Nguyen Thanh Tung from Hanoi Police said Ms. Bui Thi Hoai Anh had been arrested for fraudulently appropriating the 338 billion dong from eight victims. Initial investigations found no accomplices and authorities were applying measures to recover stolen assets for victims. General Tung urged any other affected parties to contact police.

Legal experts said the deposits were financial transactions between customers and the bank, not individuals, meaning MSB was responsible under regulations. Even if a staff member or branch director was found culpable, the bank should still compensate if internal controls failed to detect the fraud. The customers' lawyer argued they were rightfully demanding repayment of both principal and interest from MSB rather than waiting for a court ruling.

In April 2024, Deputy Governor of the State Bank of Vietnam Do Minh Tu said at a government press briefing that police were urgently investigating responsibilities of MSB, Ms. Bui Thi Hoai Anh or any other involved individuals. However, protecting depositors' interests would be the top priority in handling the case according to the law and regulations.

While isolated cases still occur, the central bank has drawn lessons each time to strengthen guidelines and supervision with commercial banks. Deputy Governor Tu noted MSB itself discovered and voluntarily reported the fraud to authorities in October 2023, not waiting for customers to find out. SBV will continue closely monitoring new developments in the investigation and ensuring proper compensation for victims according to the results.

With hundreds of billions of dong vanishing from the banking system in a city like Hanoi, this fraud case has shaken public confidence in financial security. Although explanations from police and regulators aim to reassure depositors, it remains to be seen if those who lost savings will achieve full restitution for the monumental losses. As investigations move forward, more details may emerge on how such a huge sum could be pocketed without detection for so long from a trusted domestic bank branch.

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