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US Could Ban ‘Kleptocrats’ From Entry

Top Cambodian officials implicated in illegal logging could face a ban from US entry, according to a new US law.

Under a recently inacted 2008 spending law, the State Department must compile a list of foreign government officials and their immediate family members suspected of involvement in corruption in natural resources depletion.

Any person on the “anti-kleptocracy” list will not be granted entry into the US, with exceptions for UN meetings or law enforcement requirements, according to the law.

“If it now it becomes hard to, you know, go and stay in your nice house in Manhattan or wherever you happen to have it, then too bad,” said Simon Taylor, director of the resource monitor Global Witness.

A 2007 Global Witness report, “Cambodia’s Family Trees,” names a number of high-level officials and family members as part of countrywide illegal logging rackets.

Congress has urged the State Department to consider the report when making its list of Cambodian officials.

A State Department spokesman said Wednesday the US “takes all allegations of corruption seriously.”

The US “shares many of the concerns” raised by the Global Witness report and is “reviewing all relevant information” to compile its list, the spokesman said.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Congress was seeking to ban Cambodian officials as a way to attract votes ahead of a presidential election and said the move to ban corrupt officials was not a “presidential decree.”

In fact, Congressional elections are not held this year, and the US does not run on a decree system.

The potential ban was welcomed by some conservationists in Cambodia.

“It is right for the United States to deny entry visas for those violating international law, because logging is an important issue,” said Hieng Rith, director of the Cambodia National Research Organization. “When all the trees are logged, there will be no rain. By definition it’s just like destruction against humanity, as humans will die if there is no rain.”

The Global Witness report, issued in June 2007, angered Cambodian officials and was immediately banned across the country.

It said Cambodia’s forests were being stripped clean by a network of Cambodian elite that generated its wealth from the seizure of public assets, including wide swaths of forests.

Officially ejected from the country in 2006, Global Witness spent years investigating the networks of illegal logging.

The report implicates more than a dozen officials, including Forestry Minister Chan Sarun, Forestry Administration Director Ty Sokhun and military officers of the elite military Brigade 70, which Global Witness called a “private army” of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The officials have denied wrongdoing in the past, and were unavailable for further comment Wednesday.

All of them are part of a circle of kleptocrats and cronies surrounding Hun Sen, Taylor said.

“Either he’s looking the other way, because they’re too close, which doesn’t say much for his authority, or he’s part of the problem,” Taylor said.

Global Witness was “disappointed” that language in the bill was removed that would have banned US companies from doing business with listed kleptocrats, butTaylor said the group would continue to push for stronger language in the future.

“Here we are in Cambodia ten years down, we’ve had a decade worth of billions of dollars of delivery, and very little delivery, I think, beyond personal wealth expansion in Phnom Penh and a few other centers,” he said. “And meanwhile, the average lot of the average Cambodian hasn’t gone up that much, and the assets of the state have been stolen and parked offshore.”

For more information, see the Global Witness report, and the 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act.