Vietnamese Court Sentences Perpetrators to Life Imprisonment in High-Stakes Bitcoin Robbery

The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, has concluded that Ho Ngoc Tai and defendant Hoang played the most significant roles in the theft of Bitcoin worth 37 billion Vietnamese dong ($1.6 million) from a businessman, as reported by local news outlet Tapchibitcoin.io.

On the afternoon of May 16, 34-year-old Ho Ngoc Tai and 40-year-old Tran Ngoc Hoang were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court for the crime of robbery.

The panel of judges determined that Tai was the mastermind and initiator of the crime, while Hoang actively directed its execution. Therefore, they both received the maximum penalty under the law.

Ho Ngoc Tai | Image Source: Vnexpress.net

In relation to the case, two former police officers, 42-year-old Nguyen Quoc Dung, and 30-year-old Nguyen Anh Tuan, were sentenced to 17 years and 12 years in prison, respectively. The remaining 11 defendants were sentenced to 9 to 19 years in prison as accomplices.

The court ruled that all defendants are jointly liable for compensating the full amount stolen from the victim. The court rejected the defense argument by lawyers that Vietnamese law does not recognize cryptocurrency as an asset and, therefore, lacks grounds to prosecute the defendants for the Bitcoin robbery. The court emphasized that although Vietnamese law does not recognize Bitcoin as legal tender or a means of payment, it relied on the conclusion of the valuation to convict the defendants.

“The crime of robbery is a formed offense. The defendants confessed that from the beginning, they planned to steal 1,000 Bitcoins, equivalent to $8.5 million, from the victim. In reality, the defendants stole Bitcoins converted into more than $1.6 million, and sold them for personal gain. Therefore, the indictment accurately accuses the defendants of the crime of property robbery,” stated the panel of judges.

Ho Ngoc Tai and Accomplices Stand Trial at Court on May 16th | Image Source: Vnexpress.net

The verdict established that Tai and his accomplices were Bitcoin investors in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, trading cryptocurrencies with the businessman, Mr. Le. In 2018, after a period of profitable investment advised by Mr. Le, Tai and Hoang continued to follow his advice to sell their 1,000 Bitcoins (worth approximately 4.3 million USD) and switch to new tokens such as Aureus and Ifans, resulting in substantial losses. The group believed they had been deceived by Mr. Le, leading them to plan the kidnapping and threats against him and his family to steal his bitcoin.

Following their initial unsuccessful attempt, on May 17, 2020, Tai’s group executed the plan according to the scenario devised by the two police officers, Nguyen Quoc Dung (former officer of Team 7, Criminal Police Division) and Nguyen Anh Tuan (30 years old, a police officer in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City).

According to the plan, the group followed Mr. Le’s car on the highway in multiple vehicles. In the Dau Giay town area, Dong Nai province, one car overtook Mr. Le’s vehicle and blocked its path, while another car collided with the rear. Mr. Le and his sister immediately got out of the car and were then ambushed by Tai’s group, who brandished guns (firing pellets) to subdue them.

The remaining members of the group forced Mr. Le’s wife and children into another car, threatening them with syringes containing “HIV-infected blood” (created using red ink). The group threatened to “inject HIV blood” into Mr. Le’s family if he did not disclose the password to access his electronic wallet.

Succumbing to the threats, Mr. Le revealed the password and transferred 168 Bitcoins, valued at over 37 billion VND (1.6 million USD), to the perpetrators. The stolen Bitcoins were later sold, resulting in nearly 1.9 billion VND (81.000 USD) being divided among the members of Tai’s group. Dung received over 400 million VND (17.000 USD), while Tuan received 50 million VND (2.100 USD). However, the defendants have since returned the ill-gotten gains.

The court’s ruling reflects the severity of the crime committed by Ho Ngoc Tai and his accomplices. The meticulously planned Bitcoin robbery involved coercion, violence, and threats against the victim and his family, causing significant emotional distress and endangering their lives. The court’s decision to sentence Tai and Hoang to life imprisonment sends a strong message that such criminal acts will not be tolerated in Vietnam.

It is worth noting that this case has also brought to light the ongoing legal debate surrounding the recognition of cryptocurrencies in Vietnam. The court acknowledged that current Vietnamese law does not explicitly recognize Bitcoin as a form of currency or a means of payment. However, in this particular case, the court relied on the valuation and the nature of the offense to convict the defendants of robbery. This highlights the need for further legal clarification and regulation regarding the status and treatment of cryptocurrencies in Vietnam.

The verdict emphasizes the importance of safeguarding individuals’ property rights, regardless of the nature of the assets involved. As technology continues to advance and new forms of digital assets emerge, it becomes crucial for legal frameworks to adapt and provide adequate protection against crimes targeting these assets.

This high-profile Bitcoin robbery case serves as a reminder of the risks associated with the increasing popularity and value of cryptocurrencies. It underscores the need for individuals and businesses engaged in cryptocurrency transactions to exercise caution, follow best security practices, and remain vigilant against potential threats.

With the conclusion of this trial, the justice system in Vietnam has taken a significant step in addressing cybercrimes involving cryptocurrencies. It sends a clear message that those who engage in illegal activities related to digital assets will face severe consequences under the law.

As the legal landscape evolves, it is expected that Vietnamese authorities will continue to refine their approach to cryptocurrencies, including the development of comprehensive regulations that address the challenges and risks associated with their use. This will not only enhance investor protection but also contribute to the growth and development of the digital economy in Vietnam.

In summary, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City has delivered a landmark verdict in the Bitcoin robbery case, sentencing Ho Ngoc Tai and his accomplices to life imprisonment. The ruling highlights the need for legal clarity regarding cryptocurrencies in Vietnam, while emphasizing the importance of protecting property rights in the digital age. The case serves as a reminder of the risks involved in cryptocurrency transactions and underscores the ongoing efforts to combat cybercrimes in the country.

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