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Cambodian 'lords' defend tycoon against human trafficking claim

Oknhas say RFA broadcast against Ly Yong Phat is ‘malicious slander’ and damaging to Cambodia
President of the Senate Hun Sen speaks during the first meeting of the Senate in Phnom Penh on April 3. Controversial businessman  Ly Yong Phat, who faces human trafficking allegations, once served as a personal adviser to Hun Sen.

Authorities have been urged to investigate controversial Cambodian businessman Ly Yong Phat amid human trafficking allegations. (Photo: Youtube screenshot)

Published: May 10, 2024 06:44 AM GMT
Updated: May 10, 2024 06:52 AM GMT

A coterie of Cambodia’s elite businessmen have defended their multi-millionaire colleague, Ly Yong Phat, who they say is the victim of 'malicious slander' after a broadcast by Radio Free Asia (RFA) urged authorities to investigate the tycoon for human trafficking.

Officials said they were investigating the claims which Hun Lak, secretary-general of the Cambodia Oknha Association (COA), said was linked to a chain of hotels and demanded the news report be retracted.

He said COA members “wished to inform the public that on May 5 there was a news broadcast in Khmer in which the RFA asked the government to investigate Yong Phat’s hotel chain suspected to be involved in human trafficking.”

An oknha is often compared with a British lord and was once a title bestowed by the monarch for good deeds. However, that changed to a sub-decree in 1994 and numbers have since grown from about 20 to more than a thousand. Titles are often rewards for donations of about US$500,000.

The COA was established in 2022 by 32 prominent oknhas to administer the system, which includes charities and national development, and to ensure quality members after allegations that too many oknhas were corrupt.

Hun Lak said the RFA broadcast amounted to ‘malicious slander that seriously damages the honor and dignity of tycoon Yong Phat, which the members refuse to accept’.

“We also urge the RFA to immediately retract the article,” he added, according to a translation published by the government-friendly Khmer Times on May 9.

Hun Lak also noted that Yong Phat has financially contributed to the Cambodian Red Cross and is involved in many humanitarian activities. The Red Cross is headed by Bun Rany, wife of former prime minister Hun Sen who is also honorary president of the COA.

Yong Phat is a controversial businessman who has also served as a senator and was appointed as a personal adviser to Hun Sen in late 2022. Hun Sen transferred power to his oldest son, Hun Manet, in August last year.

Yong Phat's LYP Group holds a diversified investment portfolio that includes hotels, casinos, a wildlife park, infrastructure projects and property.

In 2012, Yong Phat made headlines after an investigation by the Phnom Penh Post found his sugar plantations were profiting from child labor. The company wrote a letter to the newspaper saying child labor ceased immediately once it became known to directors.

The sugar company was eventually sold.

Chou Bun Eng, interior ministry secretary of state and permanent vice-chairwoman of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, told the Khmer Times officials were investigating the RFA claim.

But she also said the RFA claim was exaggerated, untrue, and lacking in professional ethics and she called on media outlets, especially the RFA and Voice of America, to stop publishing untrue stories about Cambodia because it affects the dignity and reputation of the country and its people.

“The broadcasting of false information by RFA is damaging Cambodia’s reputation because it seems that this media outlet is always looking for ways to spread negative news about the country,” she said.

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