Vietnamese exporters face big losses in cashew nut scam

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Workers at a cashew processing plant in southern Việt Nam. VNA Photo Đinh Huệ

HÀ NỘI — Vietnamese exporters may have lost as many as 36 containers of cashew nuts in Italy thanks to a scam, the Việt Nam Cashew Association (Vinacas) said at a press conference late Wednesday night.

The containers are priced at VNĐ10 billion each, or US$437,000, meaning losses could reach up to $15.7 million.

According to Vinacas, through a Vietnamese broker, several cashew nut exporters signed contracts to export 100 containers to Italy, to be transported by international shipping lines COSCO, YANG MING, HMM, and ONE to the ports of Genoa and La Spezia.

As of late Wednesday, 36 containers’ original documents, required by shippers to release the containers, have gone missing and Vietnamese exporters have not yet received payment for their goods. According to Vinacas, a number of containers will arrive in Italy in the next few days, while the rest will arrive by the end of March.

Several exporters have reported that changes were made to the SWIFT code sent from Vietnamese banks to those allegedly representing the importer in Turkey. The Turkish banks said the buyer is not their client and said they had sent back the documents. However, they failed to specify how they had sent back the original documents and provided Vietnamese banks with bills of lading.

After document collections were sent to the buyer’s bank in Italy, the Italian bank replied that it had received only copies of the bills of lading, not the original documents. Therefore, they can not process the payments. It is the norm in international trade that anyone with the original documents can collect the goods and the shippers must comply.

Suspecting a scam, Vinacas has sent an urgent notice to the Embassy and the Trade Office of Việt Nam in Italy to request help. The association urges the Vietnamese missions to coordinate with Italian authorities and shipping companies to prevent the release of the containers, in the event someone showed up with the original documents.

The association insisted shippers must release the goods after getting confirmation from the Vietnamese sellers, Vinacas said.

Meanwhile, the association has requested legal assistance from the Việt Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and the Việt Nam International Arbitration Center (VIAC).

Phạm Văn Hồng, deputy head of the Italy-Việt Nam Chamber of Commerce in Torino, Italy, said it was likely a deliberate scam, adding similar scams have been attempted before against Vietnamese seafood exporters to Italy.

Hồng said Vietnamese exporters should immediately seek the service of Italian legal firms specialised in import-export to put a halt to customs clearance of the containers.

He strongly advised against using D/P transactions or Documents Against Payment, saying Vietnamese firms must require a 30 per cent deposit in case something went wrong to cover their expenses to recall their goods. VNS

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