CAMBODIA: HUN SEN – FARM 42 MONEY LAUNDERER, a brutal, uncompromising DICTATOR who for almost 40 years has used killings, torture, repression, graft + other unsavory means to seize, consolidate + maintain power
-The Blood-Drenched Opportunist of Asia-
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — In a fiery speech more than three years ago Prime
Minister Hun Sen claimed credit for ridding his country of the Khmer Rouge, suggesting only he had the balls to take on Pol Pot’s murderous communists in the 1970s. “If Hun Sen was not willing to enter the tiger’s den, how would we have caught the tigers?” he famously asked.
But he left out of that narrative the fact he himself was a Khmer Rouge before he switched sides, fled to Vietnam, joined the Hanoi-backed rebel army and returned to Cambodia to help topple his former comrades in 1977, two years after the Vietnam War ended in defeat for the United States.
Hun Sen may regard himself as savior of the nation, but to most, including many of his own people, he’s a brutal, uncompromising leader who for almost 40 years has used killings, torture, repression, graft and other unsavory means to seize, consolidate and maintain power.
“Over more than three decades, hundreds of opposition figures, journalists, trade union leaders, and others have been killed in politically motivated attacks,” Human Rights Watch declared in a recent report.
The wily premier outmaneuvered and outlasted a series of opponents, many of whom made the mistake of dismissing him as “a peasant.” He even survived the machinations of the late King Norodom Sihanouk, a shrewd political chameleon who once sneered at him as a “one-eyed lackey of the Vietnamese.” And Hun Sen’s long drive for total control reached its apogee Sunday, when he won the nation’s carefully controlled election. His Cambodia People’s Party claimed victory with 80 percent of the vote, shrugging off protests from critics who said the election was a sham given that Hun Sen had made the Supreme Court dissolve the main opposition group, the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
“There are basically no checks or balances to the CPP’s power now with Hun Sen having cleared the decks of both serious political opposition as well as a critical, independent press,” says Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW. “Cambodia is entering a new paradigm of controlling, dictatorial rule.”
Sunday’s results extend Hun Sen’s 33-year reign by five more years. It realizes the ambitions of the 65-year-old premier, who has declared that he intends to rule until he’s 74 and who, says Virak Ou, director of the Future Forum think tank, apparently believes he’s the reincarnation of a Khmer god-king.
“The CPP controls every facet of the country, and the rule of law does not apply,” says Michael G. Karnavas, a lawyer who has argued cases before the International Criminal Court at The Hague. “If it did, they would have to apply it to everyone. Then they couldn’t be doing what they’re doing.”
When Hun Sen joined the Khmer Rouge in the early 1970s it was struggling to overthrow the harsh Khmer Republic regime led by Lon Nol, which it did in 1975. The new government, headed by Pol Pot, proved far bloodier than Lon Nol’s. The Khmer Rouge set about fashioning a communist “utopia,” forcibly relocating vast numbers of people from cities to work on communal farms and to be “re-educated.”
The Khmer Rouge executed intellectuals, professional people, the so-called intelligentsia, Buddhist monks, and virtually anyone it believed had links to the Lon Nol government. Some 2 million Cambodians were slaughtered, including children, some of whom were simply bashed against trees. The country is dotted with sites — dubbed “killing fields” — where people were executed. One such place, Choeung Ek, about 10 miles south of the capital, has mass graves, skulls, photos of tortured prisoners and collections of bone — grim, and still moving, evidence of the genocide.
It remains unclear why Hun Sen defected to Vietnam in 1977, although Pol Pot launched purges of the Khmer Rouge that year. No one seems to know if Hun Sen was a target. He had achieved the rank of battalion commander, but fled across the border with his cadres. Hanoi invaded Cambodia in late 1978, motivated by a desire to have a sympathetic government in Phnom Penh as it faced off against both the United States and China, according to scholar Bernd Schaefer. Hun Sen returned with the Vietnamese and became deputy prime minister in the new government — the first step in his personal conquest of Cambodia.
Hun Sen served as co-prime minister with Sihanouk’s son, Norodom Ranariddh, between 1993 and 1997, but soon elbowed aside the prince. He’s been sole premier ever since, systematically expanding his control — and his fortune.
The United States and United Nations have condemned Hun Sen’s violence against his own people and his crackdown on dissent: He has shut down the Cambodia Daily, claiming the English-language newspaper owed more than $4 million in taxes; allegedly coerced the sale of the Phnom Penh Post to a Malaysian ally; forced Radio Free Asia and the National Democratic Institute to close their Phnom Penh operations; shuttered some 30 radio stations and almost 20 websites.
Washington has reduced assistance in some aid programs and blocked visas for some government officials. In June the U.S. blacklisted the head of the prime minister’s protection detail, forcing some companies to freeze his assets.
Prior to the latest outrages, Hun Sen for years sought to at least mollify international critics. But that was when he depended on Western aid and wanted to avoid economic sanctions. These days, he has a potent ally with deep pockets and indifference to human rights niceties — China.
The Chinese now have such a large economic footprint in Cambodia that they’ve made the country a virtual dependency. In 2017 China invested $1.644 billion officially, according to the Nikkei Asian Review, with construction contracts estimated at $17.54 billion by year’s end. The Chinese are said to own up to 20 percent of entire provinces, including most of the coastal property around Sihanoukville, the main port.
New Chinese-funded buildings and construction projects choke Phnom Penh, and once sleepy Sihanoukville is being transformed into what some call “a second Macau” — a gambling haven that boasts anywhere from 40 to 80 casinos, depending on who you ask.
In return for this largesse, Hun Sen backs Beijing politically, siding with the Chinese in forums such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and in disputes like ownership of the South China Sea.
“The Chinese are giving money and they want something; that’s normal,” government spokesman Siphan Phay conceded to the Review.
Hun Sen, his family, his generals and others in the ruling apparatus are said to be profiting handsomely from China’s deep pockets. The former Communist cadre owns a number of palatial residences, including a sprawling, heavily guarded mansion near Independence Monument. Critics say he and his family have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars. Two years ago, the Global Witness NGO estimated the family’s wealth at $500 million to $1 billion, attributing it to cronyism and corruption.
The Chinese connection has worsened the country’s centuries-long patronage system, says Karnavas. “A lot of resources are going to the Chinese,” he tells The Daily Beast. “There’s a lot of resentment among Cambodians who see a lot of their property and their jobs going to Chinese.”
The widening chasm between the rich and the ordinary folks angers many Cambodians, who see expensive exotic cars speeding along the riverside and Rolls-Royces, Porsches, Range Rovers, BMWs and other luxury vehicles packing showrooms along Manivong Boulevard.
Chanvin, 30, and his wife recently had their first child. He earns $120 per month working in food and beverage and $80 more in his second job washing dishes.
“I never had a thought of going to university; there’s no chance because I don’t have money,” he tells The Daily Beast. “With all the investment, the rich are still rich and the poor are still poor. It’s not fair, you know?”
With Hun Sen’s latest win, critics say, he will continue to help his heirs profit from big corporate deals in the present — and agitate to bequeath them the real family business — Cambodia itself.
“It appears there’s a family autocracy underway,” one Western official tells the Daily Beast.
In the family autocracy, the next in line likely is Hun Manet, now deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces and head of the Cambodian Defense Department’s counterterrorism unit. Should he stumble, there’s Member of Parliament Hun Many, and a third son, Hun Manith, a brigadier-general in the army. There’s also Hun Mana, a daughter who runs a large media company.
Young non-relatives might foil the dynastic plans, however. Those who may figure in the succession, says Virak, include Interior Minister Sar Kheng; Aun Pornmoniroth, the finance minister; Environment Minister Say Samal and Sun Chanthol, the transport minister.
For Hun Sen, who will be 66 next month, such matters can be kicked down the road. By his own reckoning, the former Khmer Rouge commander still has at least eight years to rule.
BACKGROUND: 2017 FARM 42 MONEY LAUNDERING WITH ROGERIO MINGRONE + ACCOUNT AT CITIBANK – ZURICH
ABOVE – PICTURE OF 3 FARM 42 MONEY LAUNDERERS APRIL 2017 IN CAMBODIA to launder Farm 42 funds for ROGERIO MINGRONE: Ivan Papac (LEFT), Albert Bielstein (CENTER) + Sahat Siagian (RIGHT)
ABOVE – ROGERIO MINGRONE
BELOW – HARDO VON GISE
and more BACKGROUND: Hun Sen’s nephew is linked to drug-trafficking
According to reports in the Australian press in late March, Hun To, a nephew of Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, is a suspect in an international heroin-trafficking and money-laundering syndicate. The enquiry that targeted Hun To, Operation Illipango, investigated the shipment of heroin to Australia from Cambodia in cargoes of timber. But a plan by Australian police to arrest and question Hun To in Melbourne was apparently thwarted when his visa application was turned down by the Australian embassy in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Australian officials apparently wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident.
The targeting of Hun To by an Australian Crime Commission enquiry would further fuel allegations that high-ranking Cambodian government officials are involved in organised crime. The scale of the reported crime syndicate, which is said to import drugs worth more than A$1bn (US$1bn) into Australia annually, would, if correct, suggest connections to government and police in Asia. Organised-crime figures from Sydney, Australia, are allegedly investing millions of dollars in suspected drug funds in big businesses in Cambodia, including those tied to influential government and business entities. Operation Illipango apparently found that suspected drug funds had been taken to the Crown Casino in Melbourne, from which location, under the suspected oversight of Hun To, they were then moved to South-east Asia.
Hun To, the son of Hun Neng, Hun Sen’s elder brother and governor of Kampong Cham province, called the reports “baseless”, denying that he is was suspect in Australian police investigations. He also claimed that it was untrue that the Australian embassy had refused him a visa, and said that he had complained to the Australian embassy about the reports. A spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of the Interior, Khieu Sopheak, said that the ministry did not have any information linking Hun To to drug-trafficking. But a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, Yim Sovann, has called on the interior ministry to launch an investigation.
and more BACKGROUND: HOSTILE TAKEOVER – How Cambodia’s ruling family are pulling the strings on the economy + amassing vast personal fortunes with extreme consequences for the population
Few prime ministers have served for as long as Cambodia’s Hun Sen, in power for 30 years. Even when democratically voted out he has refused to step down, and has systematically quashed political opposition including through the murder, torture and arbitrary imprisonment of his critics.
Hun Sen’s family have been key to the longevity of his political career. They hold key posts across the state apparatus – in politics, the military, police, media, and charities – sectors that prop up the premier’s ruling party through propaganda, political donations or brute force.
Our new exposé, Hostile Takeover, reveals the economic dimensions of this regime, shedding light on a huge network of secret deal-making and nepotism that emanates from the Hun family and underpins the Cambodian economy.
We show how Hun family members are amassing vast personal fortunes in Cambodia’s private sector, and wield significant control across most of its lucrative industries, with links to major international brands including Apple, Nokia, Visa, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé and Honda.
I think that within two years my assets will decrease, there won’t be a gain. And besides my salary I don’t have any other income. But I think my children will support me, they won’t let me starve.- Prime Minister Hun Sen first declared his assets publicly in 2011, claiming that his US$ 13,800 annual salary was his sole source of income.
The Hun family includes a shady cast of characters. Among them are members once implicated in a $1 billion heroin smuggling operation, shoot-outs, a fatal hit-and-run, and land grabs that have caused mass displacements and destitution among Cambodia’s rural poor.
Among the most egregious examples is an agriculture company linked to the Hun family that is accused of using arson attacks and cobras to evict people from their homes. This has been filed as one of a huge dossier of cases at the International Criminal Court, as evidence that Cambodia’s ruling elite has committed land grabbing at such scale that it amounts to crimes against humanity.
Global Witness was unable to find a single case where a member of the Hun family has been prosecuted or held to account for their part in any alleged wrongdoing.
A wake-up call for investors
These findings should sound alarm bells with Cambodia’s business partners – the Hun family are major gatekeepers to the influx of foreign capital into Cambodia, and the litany of abuses they are linked to pose significant legal, financial and reputational risk to companies and investors.
The UK is the second largest foreign investor in Cambodia after China. The US is Cambodia’s biggest trading partner and export destination, receiving a third of Cambodian exports, worth almost US$3 billion a year.
These relationships have helped lift Cambodia from the ashes of the Khmer Rouge genocide that killed millions in the 1970s, making it one of the world’s fastest growing economies, on course to forge the leap from a low- to middle-income country. But the benefits are enjoyed by a small elite – while the Hun family have a combined wealth estimated to total between US$ 500 million and US$ 1 billion, 40% of Cambodians still live below or close to the poverty line.
A day in the life of a Phnom Penh resident
Cambodians might resent this closed circle of immense and ever-growing wealth, but they are inextricably locked into it. One of the cruellest ironies of Hun Sen’s model of dictatorship is that his family has Cambodia’s economy so sewn up that Phnom Penh residents are likely to struggle to avoid lining the pockets of their oppressors multiple times a day.
Scroll through our comic strip to see how.
Foreign investors, on the other hand, can and should opt out of bankrolling a regime that kills, intimidates or locks up its critics. At a time when Hun Sen is proactively courting investors from overseas, Hostile Takeover shows how the lax regulations and cheap labour force he promotes to the business community are symptomatic of the cronyism and oppression at the heart of the Cambodian economy, and the shocking inequalities of wealth and opportunity that they entrench.
Update 13 July 2016: The original version of Hostile Takeover stated that Jaya Holding Limited, a Cambodian company chaired by Hun Mana, was a subsidiary of a Singaporean company with a similar name. Since publication it has been brought to our attention that there is in fact no connection between the two companies.
Our investigation was based on official data on company ownership in Cambodia – information that the government has recently restricted access to – that shows who owns or controls private companies registered there. We scraped the data and turned it into an online, fully-searchable database called Cambodia Corporates that investors, activists and investigators can use without fear of censorship or prosecution.
and more BACKGROUND: WHO PROFITS FROM THE DEATH OF CAMBODIA’S DEMOCRACY?
As Cambodians prepare to cast their vote in a sham election on 29th July that will secure another term for the world’s longest-serving prime minister, Global Witness shines a light on members of Cambodia’s business elite, who have profited hugely from the system of grand corruption instituted during Hun Sen’s reign, and would have a lot to lose from a change in government.
Published on Facebook in an effort to dodge a fierce government crackdown on free reporting, the campaign focusses on a small cabal of tycoons who have propped up the Hun hegemony with political donations and military funding, and by courting investors from overseas.
This loyalty has been handsomely rewarded – the tycoons variously appear to have enjoyed immunity from the law, the rich spoils of the government’s state looting, and the use of state forces to guard their company operations and violently crack down on local protests against them.
As the US deliberates sanctions against Cambodian officials, Global Witness is calling for the inclusion of these individuals on any sanctions lists – for their role in the demise of Cambodian democracy, and the gross human rights abuses carried out on behalf of their companies.
These tycoons include:
- Senator Mong Reththy, who Global Witness has linked to a massive illegal logging racket and a sand dredging scandal worth millions of dollars. When allegations surfaced that the senator was also involved in marijuana trafficking, the prime minister said that anyone attempting to arrest him should “wear a steel helmet”.
- Senator Ly Yong Phat, whose sugar company operations led to some of the most violent land grabbing Cambodia has seen this century, with thousands of people thrown off their land. Sugar is just one industry in his huge business portfolio, which spans casinos, the media, infrastructure and more.
- Try Pheap, previously Hun Sen’s personal advisor, who Global Witness found to be at the helm of a multi-million dollar timber smuggling operation that relied on the complicity of officials from government, the military, police and customs. His company was even granted exclusive rights to buy illegal timber that was seized by the authorities, to sell on at a profit.
- Senator Lao Meng Khin, who owns Shukaku, the company behind the infamous Boeung Kak lake evictions. Residents who took a stand have been beaten, arrested and jailed by the authorities. Another of his companies, Pheapimex, holds Cambodia’s biggest land concession, which is 33 times bigger than the legal limit introduced shortly after it was granted.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s political career has been built on feeding the mouths of those who support him. As Global Witness investigations have revealed time and time again, his small cabal of cronies have pillaged state assets with devastating consequences. The richer and more powerful they have become, the greater their incentives to keep Hun Sen in power. Any international efforts to tackle the premier’s corrupt and dictatorial rein must also take aim at those who bankroll his regime.”- Emma Burnett, Global Witness campaigner
Cambodia’s descent into dictatorship
Hun Sen has been in power for 33 years, ruling with an iron fist that has seen opposition MPs, journalists and activists attacked, arrested and even killed.
As prime minister he has presided over a kleptocratic system of state looting that has involved the forced and violent eviction of Cambodians to free up land for tycoon-dominated industries like logging, mining and agribusiness. More than 830,000 people have been affected, deepening poverty in some of the country’s most deprived areas while making a small, corrupt elite vastly wealthy.
Cambodia’s descent into dictatorship has spanned decades, but took a turn for the worst late last year. Fearing defeat in July’s election, the government jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha in September 2017, and dissolved his party months later. It then launched a major attack on freedom of speech, closing down most independent outlets and upping its efforts to trawl the internet in search of content to block and critics to arrest.
International intervention is critical
A Bill currently being debated in US Congress foresees targeted sanctions against senior officials from Cambodia’s government, military and security forces who have “directly and substantially undermined democracy in Cambodia”.
Global Witness is pushing for the inclusion on this list of the tycoons who have played a key role in rigging Cambodian politics and its economy in their favour, to the point that the ruling party could seize complete control. The campaigns group is also calling on other foreign governments to follow suit and introduce similar legislation.
“For decades, Cambodians have been robbed of their land, robbed of their country’s natural wealth, and robbed of their voice. Now they are being robbed of their vote,” said Emma Burnett. “This is a betrayal not just of Cambodians, but of all of the countries that have together contributed billions of aid dollars to helping Cambodians build a democratic system from the devastation of the Khmer Rouge genocide – one that respects the rule of law and basic human rights. The corrupt elite who have taken that from them must finally be held to account.”
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