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US sanctions Cambodian defense officials over corruption

Those intending to do business in the Southeast Asian nation are urged to be mindful of corruption, crime and rights abuses

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: November 11, 2021 06:48 AM GMT

Updated: November 11, 2021 06:53 AM GMT

US sanctions Cambodian defense officials over corruption

Cambodian navy personnel walk along a jetty during a government-organized media tour to the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province on July 26, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

The US Treasury Department has leveled sanctions against two senior Cambodian defense officials for corruption related to a naval base on the Southeast Asian country’s southern coast.

Chau Phirun, the director-general of the defense ministry's material and technical services department, and Tea Vinh, a commander in the Royal Cambodian Navy, were blacklisted for corruption in the construction of Ream Naval Base facilities along the Gulf of Thailand.

“The United States will not stand by while corrupt officials personally benefit at the expense of the Cambodian people,” said Andrea Gacki, the director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

It was alleged that Chau Phirun had conspired with Tea Vinh and other Cambodian officials to inflate the costs of a construction project at the naval base in 2020 and 2021 and then planned to use those funds for their own benefit.

The sanctions freeze US assets held by the blacklisted duo and effectively bar Americans from any dealings with them. The State Department has also barred both men and some of their families from traveling to the US.

Washington is also increasingly concerned about the base and new facilities under construction by China. Sanctions were imposed in September last year against Union Development Group (UDG) over the seizure of land in a US$3.8 billion property development at Dara Sakor.

Sherman had also sought clarification about the demolition of two US-funded buildings at the naval base without notification or explanation

It was the first time a Chinese company had been sanctioned for human rights in Cambodia, where China has invested billions of dollars and emerged as the tiny country’s main benefactor.

The US Treasury Department said UDG had prevented villagers from planting rice while noting the state-owned company was accused of burning down the houses of villagers and had used private security and the Cambodian military to seize land.

The latest sanctions followed a meeting between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who also expressed concern about China’s construction of new facilities at the naval base.

Sherman had also sought clarification about the demolition of two US-funded buildings at the naval base without notification or explanation, warning that a Chinese military base in Cambodia would undermine its sovereignty, threaten regional security and negatively impact US-Cambodia relations.

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The US Treasury Department, in a separate statement with the US State Department, advised firms intending to do business in Cambodia “to be mindful of interactions with entities in corrupt business practices, criminal activities and human rights abuses.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said those risks include dealings in the financial, real estate, casino and infrastructure sectors, entities involved in trafficking people, wildlife and narcotics, and related risks in timber and manufacturing.

A spokesman for the Cambodian government was not immediately available for comment.

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