No acting in concert concept under Vietnamese securities regulations

 

In other jurisdictions, acting in concert is generally understood to mean the intentional cooperation between two or more parties to exercise control of a listed company. And persons deemed to be acting in concert will have their voting rights combined for the purpose of calculating whether or not a mandatory disclosure and/or tender offer is required. Vietnamese securities regulations do not clearly contemplate or nor regulate the concept of “acting in concert”. As such, it is quite common in Vietnam for technically-unrelated persons to coordinate their voting to control (or influence the control) of a public company without having to disclose the coordination or making a public tender offer. This practice could potentially cause damages to public investors who are not aware of the potential change of control of a public company.

The provision under Vietnamese law which is most relevant to the “acting in concert” concept is the definition of a related person under the Enterprise Law 2014. Under the Enterprise Law 2014, a group of persons agreeing to co-operate among themselves to takeover a share of capital contribution, a share or interest in the company or to control the issuance of decisions by the company will be considered as a related person of the company. However, the Enterprise Law 2014 only considers a group of concerting parties as a related person to the company that such parties are trying to control but not as related persons between themselves.

Update 30 April 2017 - Remove the sentence "In addition, it is not clear if the concept of “related persons” under the Enterprise Law 2014 would apply to a public listed company since the Securities Law 2006 has its own definition of related persons." since under Decree 71/2017, a related person includes both related persons under the Securities Law 2006 and Enterprise Law 2014. 

Stricter Requirements For Multiple-Level Marketing Activities

In March 2018, the Government issued a new Decree (Decree 40/2018) on multiple level marketing (MLM) activities. Decree 40/2018 takes effect from 2 May 2018 replacing Decree 42/2014. In general, Decree 40 inherits many regulations of Decree 42/2014 and its implementing Circular (Circular 24/2014). That said, Decree 40/2018 introduces various new and stricter requirement on MLM activities. In particular,

  • A MLM enterprise must now register its activities with provincial competent authorities, where there are MLM activities conducted by its consultants. A MLM enterprise must appoint an individual representative in each province where it does not have branch or representative office. Under Decree 42, a MLM enterprise only needs to notify provincial competent authorities where there are MLM activities conducted by its consultants.

  • A MLM company must now make an escrow deposit of VND 10 billion or 5% of the charter capital, whichever is higher instead of VND 5 billion with a local bank or a foreign bank branch in Vietnam. The deposit is to secure for the MLM company’s obligations with respect to the members of the MLM network.

Applicability of indirect ownership in determining ownership limit in a Vietnamese joint stock bank

A shareholder (especially a foreign shareholder) in a Vietnamese joint stock bank (VN Bank) must know how much its shareholding in the VN Bank is. This is because (1) there are ownership caps applicable to a single shareholder or a group of related persons, and (2) a “major shareholder” is required to obtain an approval from the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV). Since the Law on Credit Institutions 2010 (LCI 2010) and Decree 1/2014 introduces the concept of “indirect ownership”, it may be difficult to determine the exact shareholding ownership of a shareholder in a VN Bank for the purpose of (1) and (2) above. Indirect ownership is defined as an organization or individual owning the charter capital or shareholding capital of a credit institution via a related person or trust investment.

Obstacles for a hostile takeover in Vietnam

Given the lack of clarity on tender offer rules and the difficulty in enforcing such rules in practice, it is not so difficult for an investor to accumulate significant stake in a public joint stock company (target company) in Vietnam. However, if such investor is not supported by the Board of the target company, then the unwelcomed investor may find a hard time to participate in the management of the target company even if the investor can acquire control of the target company at shareholder level. This is because: