Vietnam’s Richest Man Lost $490M in 6 Hours Because of a Wild Rumor

A man was fined $320 by Vietnamese authorities for starting the rumor, which said the tycoon was barred from leaving the country due to a corruption crackdown.
Pham Nhat Vuong, Vingroup chairman, was believed to be banned from travel, a rumor that cost him $450 million in net worth.
Pham Nhat Vuong, chairman of Vingroup JSC, listens during an interview in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Photo: Yen Duong/Bloomberg via Getty Image

For days, people were convinced that Vietnam’s most powerful conglomerate was on the brink of a major crisis. On social media, users speculated over the fate of its chairman, Vietnam’s enigmatic wealthiest man, who many believed had been banned from leaving the country. Others speculated about what this downfall would mean for Vietnam’s economic and political landscape.  

But these murmurs turned out to be false—a wild rumor churned out of the social media gossip mill that spiraled out of control. But these posts, seemingly the figment of one social media user’s imagination, dealt a major blow to the country’s stock market. 

Advertisement

In one trading session at Ho Chi Minh City’s stock market on July 6, Pham Nhat Vuong, the chairman of Vingroup and Vietnam’s top billionaire, had $490 million wiped off his net worth in 6 hours, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index. With three Vingroup subsidiaries taking a tumble in the VN30 index, a basket of Vietnam’s top 30 stocks, the country’s stock market also hit a 16-month low.

As the stock market wobbled, Vietnam authorities sprang into action last week, dismissing the rumors and warning people not to share the posts. The Ministry of Public Security announced that they were investigating nine people for spreading the rumor—including To Vi Hoan, a 38-year-old man in Hanoi identified by authorities as its source. He was fined 7.5 million dong ($320) for spreading false information.

As the country’s largest conglomerate, Vingroup has infiltrated various aspects of Vietnamese life, from real estate to smartphones, pharmaceuticals, and automobiles, employing over 40,000 people and raking in revenue amounting to two percent of the national GDP.

Advertisement

On July 13, VinFast, the automotive arm of Vingroup, said it will be raising at least $4 billion for its first electric vehicle factory in North Carolina. The project made headlines when it was announced earlier this year, going against global trends with a Vietnamese company opening up a factory in the U.S.

Vuong, the country’s wealthiest man with a net worth of $5.77 billion, helms the ever-expanding conglomerate prized by the government. Le Hong Hiep, a senior fellow specializing in Vietnamese studies at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said the group enjoys “more protection from the government” due to its economic importance to Vietnam. 

“If the rumor is about a small company or an insignificant business person, the government will not care,” he told VICE World News. “But because the group is the biggest private conglomerate in Vietnam, if anything happens to the group, it will not be Vingroup only. The national economy will suffer.”

“Because of the importance of Vingroup to the national economy, I think the government has good reasons to intervene, especially when the information is false.” 

Advertisement

This isn’t the first time members of the public have been targeted by authorities for their comments on VinGroup. Last year, Facebook users had their accounts blocked after posting bad reviews of VinFast’s cars, while one YouTuber was reported to the police by VinFast after highlighting problems with the company’s cars. 

In 2018, local pro-democracy activist Nguyen Anh Tuan said that he was stopped at the airport after returning from an overseas trip, held for 15 hours and ordered to delete Facebook posts where he raised questions about Vingroup’s land acquisition processes. In 2019, real estate investors who complained about Vingroup’s tardy property development were contacted by police warning them not to speak to journalists or post on social media, the Financial Times reported.

Phil Robertson, the Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, told VICE World News that Vingroup’s insulation from criticism makes a “mockery of official claims to uphold rule of law.”

Advertisement

“Just like Vietnam criminalizes any criticism of the government or its officials, so it also goes after those who dare denounce the misdeeds of state-connected companies like Vingroup,” he said. “Such impunity allows Vingroup to run roughshod over the rights of ordinary people who are adversely affected by the company's operations or projects.”

Rumors around Vuong’s travel ban are not entirely without foundation, as Vietnamese authorities have been cracking down on the country’s one-percenters. This month, speculation abounded that the 53-year-old would be the next target in a series of high-profile arrests of the country’s wealthiest, as the Vietnamese communist party forges on with its “blazing furnace” corruption crackdown led by general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong since 2016. 

In many of these cases, businesspeople were banned from leaving the country while being investigated.

In March, rumors had it that the government had issued a travel ban for Trinh Van Quyet, another Vietnamese billionaire of property development wealth, whose stock price similarly plummeted amid investor concern. On March 29, just one day after the Ministry of Public Security dismissed rumors that he had been arrested, Quyet was arrested on accusations of market manipulation.

Follow Koh Ewe on Twitter and Instagram.