Factors affecting an acquisition of companies in Vietnam

Any acquisition will have its own details and structures. That being said, a foreign investor intending to do deal in Vietnam should take into account the following factors, among other things:

Corporate form of the target company

A target company in Vietnam may be:

  1. a limited liability company (LLC) (công ty trách nhiệm hữu hạn) incorporated under the Enterprise Law. A LLC may be a single-member LLC (One Member LLC), which is owned by a single member, or a two or more members LLC (Multiple Member LLC), which is owned by two or more members; or
  2. a joint stock company (JSC) (công ty cổ phần) incorporated under the Enterprise Law. A JSC can be a public JSC (which usually has 100 or more shareholders) or a private JSC. A public JSC may also be a “listed company” (công ty niêm yết) if the shares of the relevant company is listed on a stock exchange.

The corporate form of the target company may affect a transaction significantly. For example, a foreign investor may not be able to acquire more than 49% of a public JSC while it can acquire 100% of a LLC doing the same business. The selling shareholders in a public JSC can be subject to substantially lower capital gain tax than the selling shareholders in a private JSC.

Nature of the existing owner(s) of the target company:

A target company in Vietnam may be owned and controlled by:

  1. local private investors, in which case the target company is considered as a domestic company. Investing in a domestic company may or may not require an Investment Certificate;   
  2. foreign investor, in which case the target company is considered as a foreign invested enterprise. A foreign invested company incorporated on or after 1 July 2006 should operate either as a LLC or JSC under the Enterprise Law. However, a foreign invested company which was incorporated before 1 July 2006 and has not re-registered as a LLC under the Enterprise Law will operate in a legal vacuum and be subject to many uncertainties. Investing in a foreign invested company is usually subject to an Investment Certificate; or
  3. Vietnamese Government, in which case the target company is considered as a State-owned enterprise. Investing in a State-owned enterprise may be subject to separate rules on equitisation (or privatisation) of State-owned enterprises.

Nature of the business of the target company

Depending on the business of the target company, there may be specific restrictions on foreign investment or other special requirements applicable to the proposed acquisition or the target company.

Vietnam Business Law Blog

A new Law on Cybersecurity (Luật an ninh mạng) (the CSL 2018) will come into effect from 1 January 2019 in Vietnam. Not only providing measures to secure the cyber-environment which to some extent has been regulated by the Law on Cyber-information Safety dated 19 November 2015, the CSL 2018 also includes various provisions to control the contents posted or published on the cyber-network. Below are some salient issues of the CSL 2018.

Scope of the CSL 2018

The CSL 2018 applies to all agencies, organizations and individuals involving in the protection of cybersecurity, which is broadly defined as the assurance that activities in cyberspace not causing harm to the national security, social order and safety, lawful rights and interests of agencies, organizations and individuals. In particular, the CSL 2018 will apply to overseas organisations, which have users residing in Vietnam such as Google or Facebook.

The CSL 2018 covers all networks of IT infrastructure, telecommunication, Internet, computer systems, databases, information processing, storage and controlling systems, and regulates activities of every enterprise providing services in cyberspace and Internet users including e-commerce, websites, online forums, social networking and blogs.

Operators of information system (Chủ quản hệ thống thông tin)

The CSL 2018 imposes various obligations on an operator of an information system. Under the  Law on Cyber-information Safety according to which, an operators of information systems means any agencies, organizations or individuals having directly managing authority to an information system.

A new Law on Competition (Competition Law 2018) will take effect from 1 July 2019 in Vietnam. Some key changes in the Competition Law 2018 are as follows:

  • Broader scope of application: The Competition Law 2018 now governs any activities whether by Vietnamese or foreign entity or individual which have or may have the “competition restraining impact” to Vietnam market. Competition restraining impact means impact which excludes, reduces, distorts or hinders competition in the market. Under the Competition Law 2018, the competition authority of Vietnam now has clear authority to deal with offshore activities and transactions which has impact on Vietnam market. In addition, the Competition Law 2018 now also apply to public service units such as hospitals, or schools which are technically not enterprises.

  • Besides the principle of honesty, companies are required to compete with each other in accordance with the principles of justice and fairness.

  • Relationship with other laws: Contrary to the old competition law, the new Competition Law 2018 will not prevail other laws in case such other laws have regulations on action in restraints of competition, form of economic concentration, activities of and dealing with unfair competition.

  • Under the new Competition Law 2018, a State agency is prohibited not only from forcing but also from “requesting or recommending” enterprises or individuals or organisations to perform or not to produce and sell specific goods, provide and use specific service, or produce and sell goods to or provide and use services of specific enterprises.

Decree 71/2017 replaced Circular 121/2012 on corporate governance of public join-stock company (Public JSC) since 1 August 2017. Decree 71/2017 does not have its own criteria for being an independent director but refers to the criteria under the Enterprise Law 2014. The table below compares the old criteria of an independent director in a Public JSC with the new criteria under the Enterprise Law 2014. Although in some areas, the Enterprise Law 2014 provides stricter criteria, the Enterprise Law 2014 contains certain major omission (e.g., including omission to exclude managers of an affiliate or representatives or related persons of a major shareholder in a Public JSC from acting as an independent director of a Public JSC).

Under a recent announcement in Official Letter No. 4486/UBCK-GSDC dated 20 July 2018, the State Securities Commission of Vietnam (SSC) requires public companies, securities companies, asset management companies, and securities investment funds (quỹ đầu tư chứng khoán) (i) not to conduct any illegal offering, transaction or transaction brokerage relating to virtual money (tiền ảo) which should include cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and to (ii) adhere to the legal regulations on anti-money laundering.

The above official letter was based on Directive 10/CT-TTg of the Prime Minister dated 11 April 2018. Both of them once again confirm the view of Vietnamese government on virtual money that was stated by the State Bank of Vietnam in its press release dated 27 February 2014 about Bitcoin in Vietnam:

(a)        virtual money is not currency; and

(b)        virtual money is not a legal tender.

1.    Where a member (the Conflicted Member) in a limited liability company with two or more members (the LLC) has an interest in a related-party transaction or contract (an RPT) with the Multi-Member LLC, the Enterprise Law 2014 requires the RPT to be approved by the Members’ Council (MC) of the LLC excluding the votes of the Conflicted Member. However, relating to the approval process, the Enterprise Law 2014 is not clear on the following issues:

1.1.    whether the charter capital of the Conflicted Member should be excluded from the calculation of quorum of the MC’s meeting to approve the RPT? and 

1.2.    if the Conflicted Member is the chairman of the MC, whether the Conflicted Member can still preside over the MC’s meeting?