A number of U.S. lawmakers have welcomed a call from London-based NGO Global Witness for targeted sanctions on four Cambodia regime cronies accused of profiting from the anti-democratic crackdown in the country.
Senator Patrick Leahy, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in an email that “in Cambodia corruption comes in, and out of, uniform,” referring to the involvement of non-state actors in corruption in Cambodia.
“It is not just the military that has propped up an increasingly illegitimate regime but also Prime Minister Hun Sen’s business cronies,” Leahy said. “Sanctions against such tycoons and their family members by the United States are appropriate and timely.”
Last week, Global Witness launched a campaign targeting four tycoons with close ties to the Hun Sen regime who have been accused of human rights abuses, environmental destruction and corruption. The tycoons named by Global Witness were logging baron Try Pheap, and current and former Cambodian People’s Party senators Ly Yong Phat, a sugar magnate, Mong Reththy, who owns one of Cambodia’s largest conglomerates, and Lao Meng Khin, one of Hun Sen’s closest private sector allies.
“The sad irony is that those who, at great personal risk, have opposed illegal logging and land grabbing are denied justice – some jailed and prevented from participating in elections – while the perpetrators walk free,” Leahy said. “This is Cambodia today.”
Congressman Alan Lowenthal, a co-chair of the Congressional Cambodia Caucus, said while criminal entities should be punished, “these crimes must be proven.”
Lowenthal was a key sponsor of a bill to sanction Cambodian officials for “undermining democracy”, the Cambodia Democracy Act, which was passed earlier in July.
“If it is true and can be proven that Hun Sen’s associates have committed human rights abuses, then I believe that we should impose sanctions upon those individuals per the Magnitsky Act,” he said.
Of Hun Sen’s inner circle, only General Hing Bun Heang, the commander of Hun Sen's bodyguard unit, has so far seen his assets frozen and a visa ban imposed on entering the United States.
“Hun Sen continues to eviscerate democratic opposition in Cambodia,” said Maria Jeffrey, a spokesperson for Senator Ted Cruz. “He imprisons political opponents, persecutes journalists, and denies basic freedoms. Congress and the Trump administration have taken steps to punish this authoritarianism, but they have not been enough to change the Cambodian regime’s calculus.”
Mu Sochua, a vice president of Cambodia banned opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, said tycoons such as those named by Global Witness should be held accountable.
“We cannot let go of senior government officials with lots of wealth like these tycoons and who get involved in corruption, dirty money, or stealing natural resources,” she said.
Reththy has denied the allegations made by Global Witness.
“If you say you’re a protector of the nation, you must be brave to let your asset be audited, then you’re good to go,” Sochua said. “But if not, and you have abundant wealth while people are still suffering and losing land because of inhumane acts, I don’t think this is right.”
More than 830,000 people have been affected by land grabbing in Cambodia, deepening poverty in some of the country’s most deprived areas while making a small, corrupt elite incredibly wealthy, according to Global Witness.