The Cambodian government has brushed aside questions raised over the dual citizenship status of government officials and a Hun Sen family member, revealed last week in an investigative report.
The government was responding to a news report that Hun Sen’s niece Hun Kimleng and her family, which includes National Police chief and close Hun Sen ally Neth Savoeun, had obtained or applied for Cypriot nationality using an investment-to-citizenship scheme.
The Reuters investigation cited Cypriot government documents that revealed that Economy and Finance Minister Aun Pornmoniroth and Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lau Meng Khin had also applied for citizenship in Cyprus, these applications coinciding with a democratic backslide in Cambodia.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said it was not unusual for Cambodian citizens to have multiple citizenships, but that authorities were looking into claims made in the story, not detailing the extent of this review.
“We are checking whether it is true or not,” Siphan told VOA Khmer on Sunday. “I am not surprised. Cambodia doesn’t prohibit anyone from seeking citizenship from any country.”
The news investigation, titled “Special Report: Khmer Riche,” revealed the lavish lifestyles led by the Hun Sen’s family and his inner circle of allies. The prime minister has routinely dismissed any questions raised over his family’s wealth, while personally portraying a humbler image to the Cambodian public.
The Reuters story revealed that Hun Kimleng owned million dollar homes in London and Singapore, and her eldest daughter owned a $7 million apartment next to her mother’s in London.
Using Cypriot Interior Ministry documents, Reuters revealed that Hun Kimleng had been granted Cypriot nationality. The story reported Neth Savoeun and their three daughters had applied for the same two years ago, though it is unclear if they were granted Cypriot passports. Similar documents were used to uncover the citizenship applications of Aun Pornmoniroth and Lau Meng Khin.
VOA Khmer attempted to reach Hun Kimleng on multiple occasions in recent days but she did not respond to requests for comment.
Reached by phone, Lau Meng Khin said he was ‘abroad’ and could not comment. VOA Khmer dialed several mobile phone numbers for Aun Pornmoniroth and could not reach him.
Following the story, an opposition member of parliament in Cyprus, Irene Charalambides, questioned the issuance of the passports in social media posts, calling on the Cypriot government to transparently review the procedures used to issue these documents and why were they issued.
However, Cypriot website in-cyprus.com reported that the Cyprus Public Audit Oversight Authority said the case was outside its jurisdiction because the passport applications had been made through private law firms. The opposition in Cyprus continues to demand an investigation into the findings.
The Hun family’s vast wealth was previously reported in a Global Witness report released in 2016. It showed the family had amassed massive amounts of wealth through at least 114 companies owned or linked to the family and CPP senior officials.
Hun Kimleng was linked to investments in Gloria Jeans Coffee chain, Hard Rock Café and Worldwide Investment Group, which was involved in mining concessions in five provinces. She is also the chairwoman of HML Law Group and Consultants, which counts major Cambodia-based businesses as its clients, such as casino behemoth NagaCorp, microfinance lender Sathapana Bank and the International School of Phnom Penh.
The revelations come as Cambodia faces the potential of economic sanctions from the U.S. and a revocation of the “Everything But Arms” trade preferences from the European Union, both resulting from a failure to uphold human rights commitments in the country.
Hun Sen has goaded Western nations to impose sanctions saying Cambodians were smart enough to not park their money overseas, though the Reuters investigation seems to suggest otherwise.
The prime minister has also complained in the past that dual citizenship have been used by Cambodians to evade criminal prosecutions, an allegation directed at opposition figure Sam Rainsy, who has multiple dubious criminal convictions but lives in exile in Paris with his French citizenship.
However, Cambodian People’s Party Senator Sok Eysan characterized dual citizenship as a means to easily travel overseas and were not indicative of any apprehensions with living in Cambodia.
“Our constitution doesn’t prohibit anyone from having foreign citizenship,” he said. “It is their right. Some have three citizenships. I think there is not any issue.”
CNRP leader Mu Sochua, who is herself in exile, questioned the ability of CPP senior members to afford citizenship in Cyprus. Reuters reports that Hun Kimleng would have spent at least $2.2 million to acquire citizenship for her family.
“Those who are corrupt are seeking a place to flee at any time,” she told VOA Khmer.
“I think there are more of Hun Sen’s family, relatives and other high officials who are seeking citizenship. We have to find out who,” she said.
But the CPP’s Sok Eysan, quickly dismissed these accusations.
“Cambodians almost 100 percent don’t have intention to live abroad,’’ Sok Eysan said. ‘’I think Cambodia is the most comfortable country to live in.”
Sophal Ear, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College at Los Angeles, said the CPP’s rhetoric was flawed when it brushed aside its members’ dual citizenship, but attacked the opposition for having many key members with dual citizenship.
“Of course, while they criticize the opposition for having obtained citizenship following refugee status, they themselves buy citizenship in countries to obtain tickets out of Cambodia when things go to hell in a hand-basket,” Sophal Ear said.
He said it was likely these citizenship requests were an exit plan for those concerned with the country’s political and economic stability.