Cambodia’s National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy said Wednesday that he was denied a U.S. visa last year to attend a police conference because of his suspected links to human trafficking.
In a telephone interview with VOA Khmer, he downplayed the significance of the U.S. rejecting his visa request and he characterized it as a misunderstanding.
Hok Lundy, the nation’s top police general for more than 15 years and one of the most powerful people in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s inner circle, told VOA Khmer that he has not been officially told why his visa request was denied but that he understood the reason was linked to human trafficking.
‘’As far as I know, they say there is a link to, or involvement in, the problem of sexual trafficking of women and children in Cambodia,’’ Hok Lundy said. ‘’And then they put the fault on the lack of police competence and charged that the National Police Commander pays no attention. So, that’s it, briefly speaking, and they put the matter as ‘sanction’.’’
He asserted he was denied a visa because of ‘’confusing allegations’’ by ‘’American officials.’’ He described the incident as ‘’no matter.’’ ‘’I don’t think this is a big problem at all because if I was not invited by the Los Angeles police chief and submitted my form for the visa to visit, then I would not even know about my rejected visa problem,’’ he said.
The admission by Hok Lundy confirms a report three months ago in The Cambodia Daily. The Phnom Penh-based newspaper quoted the U.S. State Department’s top official for combating human trafficking, John Miller, as saying Hok Lundy was denied entry to the U.S. because of ‘’sufficient reports and allegations concerning his role in trafficking in persons.’’
Miller told VOA Khmer on Monday at State Department headquarters in Washington that he ‘’stood by’’ his remarks published in The Cambodia Daily.
Miller spoke to VOA Khmer after formally releasing his office’s 2006 annual report, which ranks countries according to their efforts to fight human trafficking, characterized as a booming, multi-million dollar illicit international business that exploits the poverty-stricken. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called worldwide networks which trade human beings like goods as ‘’modern slavery.’’
Cambodia was ranked by the U.S. in 2005 at the worst level, grouped with a 14 other countries including North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. In the new report, Cambodia was upgraded to the second-lowest level, a ‘watchlist’ tier, with some 30 countries, including China, India, Russia and Libya.
Miller explained that Cambodia had taken modest steps against some low-level traffickers, which contributed to the improved ranking, but emphasized that corruption at high levels of the government continues to significantly plague efforts in Cambodia to combat human trafficking.
He urged Cambodia to prosecute culprits even if they are top officials. ‘’This is an organized criminal activity,’’ Miller said. ‘’It doesn’t go on without big people being involved. And, we want to see some prosecutions in Cambodia that get at the corruption related to trafficking.’’
Hok Lundy on Wednesday acknowledged that ‘’some’’ top Cambodian government officials profit personally from and might protect human trafficking networks, asserted that his police department has taken firm measures to combat the scourge.
He welcomed the new State Department report and maintained that it vindicated him and helped clear his ‘’reputation.’’ He said it reflected that the U.S. recognized actions taken by his police force in recent months against some traffickers and brothel operators. Hok Lundy said he might soon visit the U.S. at the invitation of the FBI but that a formal invitation had yet arrived. Miller did not mention Hok Lundy by name on Monday and he declined to disclose evidence against him.
When asked Monday about The Cambodia Daily story and about the reason Hok Lundy’s visa request was denied, Miller replied: ‘’I made a comment to The Cambodia Daily. I’ll stand by what I said there.’’
In March, an English- and Khmer-language newspaper based in Phnom Penh, The Cambodia Daily, quoted Miller as saying: ‘’I can certainly say that the United States government felt there were sufficient reports and allegations concerning his role in trafficking in persons to justify the [visa] denial.’’
Miller warned Monday that unless Cambodia prosecuted top government officials this year it would drop down to tier 3 again, which could lead to sanctions.
US Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli told VOA Khmer while visiting Washington DC last month that, based on his diplomatic experience in developing countries, it was ‘’likely’’ that high-ranking officials have ties to human trafficking networks in Cambodia.
He, added, however, that individual officials should not be singled out without support evidence. ‘’I mean, it’s very likely, as I have seen elsewhere in my career, there are lots of corrupt officials involved, in lots of nefarious doings, whether it is human trafficking or drug trafficking,’’ Mussomeli told VOA Khmer. ‘’But before I point fingers at specific individuals, I’d really like some clear evidence.’’
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said that the U.S. has unique and often clever methods of working to protect its national interests and emphasized that for the U.S. to deny a visa to an official from any country is a serious matter. ‘’But the U.S. has not done this thing as just a joke.’’
Son Chhay said Wednesday, referring to the Hok Lundy visa denial matter. ‘’They have their own clear principles before banning any countries’ officials to travel to their country.’’
Leading human rights advocate Kek Galabru, who founded the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said Wednesday that human trafficking networks exploit the poor people and are a dangerous problem for Cambodia and that they generate millions of dollars of income.
She said that human trafficking happens ‘’inside the country and outside the country’’ and ‘’if there is no master behind it with a high-ranking, it cannot flourish as it does.’’ Galabru also requested assistance from the U.S. in fighting the illicit trade.
She said if the U.S. has clear information that, ‘’indeed, Mr. A or Mr. B or Mr. C is linked to human trafficking, of course the U.S. cannot arrest someone in this country, or put the sanctions in some areas besides not to give the visa and economic sanctions, but there should be publicized the name of those officials who committed those activities.’’