Duc said the aircraft, a used Beechcraft King Air 350, had cost 7 million dollars, and would be delivered to Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday.

The sale is a sign of growing wealth, and inequality in Vietnam, which has seen growth rates of more than 7 per cent a year since 2001. Other Vietnamese business leaders have flaunted recent purchases of imported Rolls Royces and Lamborghinis, and Duc is most likely the first of many to step up to planes.

"According to Vietnam's aviation law, anyone can own a plane, provided it is registered with the aviation department," said Duong Van Thao, an official at Vietnam Airlines and formerly with Vietnam's civil aviation department.

Unlike imported cars, private aircraft can be purchased in Vietnam free of import tax.

Duc is chairman of the Hoang Anh Gia Lai conglomerate, which branched out from its base in rubber plantations in the country's central highlands to include interests in real estate, hotels and other industries. Duc said the company expects profits of more than 150 million dollars this year.

Since January this year, Duc has been negotiating to purchase a 20 per cent stake in the British football club Arsenal. The conglomerate owns one of the leading clubs in the Vietnamese league in its home province of Gia Lai and operates a football academy there in cooperation with Arsenal.

"I will have to wait for the Vietnamese government to issue a decree sometime next year to pave the way for the purchase," Duc said. "On the Arsenal side, I think it's okay, because it's a free market there in the UK."

Deutsche Presse Agentur - May 12, 2008