Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade has responded to questions posed by local media over the personal assets of one of its deputy heads, which are estimated to worth no less than VND100 billion (US$4.46 million).
Deputy minister Ho Thi Kim Thoa has been in media spotlight after it has been discovered that she is one of the biggest shareholders of local bulb maker Dien Quang Lamp (DQC).
According to a DQC administrative report reviewed by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Thoa currently owns 1,686,415 shares, or a 4.91 stake of the company, worth more than VND100 billion.
Though not being a major shareholder, Thoa holds the six-largest stake of the lamp maker.
According to the same report, other family members of the deputy minister are also big DQC shareholders.
Her eldest daughter, Nguyen Thai Nga, for instance, owns 12.01 percent of the company, or 4.1 million shares, and the second daughter, Nguyen Thai Quynh Le, possesses 2.23 million shares, or a 6.49 percent stake.
Thoa’s younger brother, Ho Quynh Hung, owns 7.33 percent of the company, or 2.5 million shares, and her mother, Nguyen Thi My Xuan, 1.22 million shares, or 3.83 percent.
The entire family therefore has a combined assets of more than VND718 billion ($32.05 million) in DQC shares.
Thoa’s eldest daughter, Nga, is DQC deputy CEO, whereas her younger brother Hung is the company’s chairman and CEO.
Rich before ministerial post
Following these questions from the media, the trade ministry on Friday released a response statement to defend its deputy official.
According to the document, the ministry said Thoa had possessed shares at DQC prior to her appointment as deputy minister.
Before taking the ministerial job, Thoa had spent 18 years working at DQC, being the company’s CEO between 2000 and 2005, according to the trade ministry.
From 2005 to 2010, Thoa was DQC chairwoman, while maintaining her chief executive post.
“The DQC shares in possession of Thoa had existed prior to her being appointed Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade,” the ministry said in its statement.
“This stake holding was fully declared when Thoa completed her profile for the appointment in 2009, and was later approved by higher-level authorities.”
The ministry added that Thoa has always mentioned the DQC stake holding in her annual personal asset declaration since working at the trade ministry.
Numerous questions unanswered
The assets scandal came shortly after Thoa was admonished as a disciplinary action for involving in the scandalous appointment of Trinh Xuan Thanh, now wanted internationally.
Thoa and her ex-boss Vu Huy Hoang have been found acting against procedures when promoting Thanh from a staff to the deputy chief of the Party’s Steering Commission at the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
Prior to his transfer to the commission, Thanh served as chairman of the state-run PetroVietnam Construction JSC (PVC), leading the company to a US$150 million loss between 2009 and 2013.
Thanh has been wanted internationally since September 16 by Vietnamese police following his disappearance to avoid a criminal investigation into the losses.
Shortly after the ministry released the statement to defend Thoa in her personal assets scandal on Friday, experts said many questions remain unanswered.
Dr. Ngo Minh Hai, from the Central Institute for Economic Management, said the ministry failed to get to the bottom of the issue, leaving the transparence of the stake holding of Thoa at DQC unaddressed.
“What needs to be clarified is whether Thoa had made advantage of her top positions at DQC to own a huge amount of shares when the company began listing on the stock market,” he said.
A stock expert told Tuoi Tre that current laws do not ban public servants to own shares at privatized companies.
“But it should be made clear whether there is transparence when the CEO and chairwoman of a company happened to be a big shareholder following the privatization of the very company she is the leader of,” he said.
Another issue that needs clarification according to Dr. Hai, is why deputy minister Thoa was tasked with overseeing the light industry sector when she still holds shares at a company within this category of business.
“This is like acting as the referee and player in one same football game,” lawyer Truong Thanh Duc, from the Vietnam International Arbitration Center, commented.