A leading Cambodian businessman accused by NGO Global Witness of profiting from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s rule has hit back at the anti-corruption group’s call for sanctions to be imposed on a small group of politically connected tycoons.
On Friday, Global Witness called on Washington to impose sanctions on four tycoons with close ties to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party over evidence they have been involved in corruption, environmental destruction, and human rights abuses. The four tycoons identified by Global Witness are Mong Reththy, Ly Yong Phat, Try Pheap and Lao Meng Khin.
“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,” Global Witness said in a statement.
Yong Phat, a CPP senator, declined to comment. Try Pheap, a logging baron, and Meng Khin, also a former CPP senator, could not be reached on Monday.
Reththy, chairman of the Mong Reththy Group and a CPP senator, denied statements made by Global Witness that accused him of involvement in illegal logging, adding that he did not care about their call for sanctions.
“I don’t know why I was accused of cutting and destroying the forest. The question is where did it happen? It would be much better to meet face-to-face somewhere to ask questions,” he said.
Global Witness and other NGOs and journalists have for years cataloged illegal forest clearance by companies owned by the four tycoons mentioned in the Global Witness campaign, including Reththy.
Reththy, however, points to his company’s tree-planting activities as evidence that he did not condone forest destruction. “For Cambodians throughout the country, everyone knows that I plant 10,000 trees annually,” he said.
But Emma Burnett, Global Witness campaigner, said in a statement: “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.”
“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.”
The U.S. Embassy declined to comment.