The United States has sanctioned notorious Macau criminal figure Wan Kuok-koi, also known as “Broken Tooth,” who is linked to Cambodia through his World Hongmen History and Culture Association in Phnom Penh.
The U.S. Treasury Department put Wan Kuok-koi in a sanctioned list of “corrupt actors” under the Global Magnitsky Act, which means all his assets in the U.S. will be frozen and Americans are barred from doing business with him.
Three entities linked to Wan Kuok-koi were also sanctioned: World Hongmen History and Culture Association, based in Cambodia; Dongmei Group, based in Hong Kong; and Palau China Hung-Mun Cultural Association, based in Palau.
Wan Kuok-koi was a leader of the 14K Triad, one of China’s largest criminal organizations with activities in drug trafficking, illegal gambling and human trafficking. He was jailed in 1999 for 14 years and has attempted to reinvent himself as a businessman after being released in 2012.
Cambodian media reports show Wan Kuok-koi launching the World Hongmen History and Culture Association in Phnom Penh in 2018, in the presence of Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An and Military Police Commander Sao Sokha.
At the time Men Sam An said the association had “confidence in the Cambodian government” and asked for greater investments in trade, tourism and other sectors.
He has also been photographed with General Hing Bun Hieng, head of the Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit (PMBU), who is also subject to the same Treasury Department sanctions.
"The World Hongmen History and Culture Association has managed to co-opt elite figures in Malaysia and Cambodia,” read the Treasury Department statement.
“This continues a pattern of overseas Chinese actors trying to paper over illegal criminal activities by framing their actions in terms of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China Dream, or other major initiatives of the CCP," read the statement by the Treasury Department.
Men Sam An and Hing Bun Hieng could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Cambodia’s Military Police Commander Sao Sokha said he was not aware of the U.S. sanctions against Broken Tooth, and defended his attendance at the launch of the association by calling himself an “ordinary participant.”
Photos from the event show Sao Sokha sitting right next to Broken Tooth.
“I don’t know who is good, who is bad,” Sao Sokha said. “It was just a photo. I have not done anything wrong with him.”
Wan Kuok-koi launched “Hongmen Beer” in Phnom Penh in 2019, which was attended by General Chhum Socheat, a secretary of state and spokesperson for the Defense Ministry of Cambodia.
Sok Eysan, a spokesperson for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, questioned the veracity of information collected by the U.S. because it could be “politically motivated or an ideology behind it.” He was unsure if the government would initiate an investigation into Broken Tooth.
Pech Pisey, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said the country doesn’t have the ability and mechanisms to uncover the beneficiaries or owners of Chinese companies operating in Cambodia.
“The sanction can show that Cambodia’s investment environment is not good yet and foreign investors are afraid of coming into Cambodia,” he said.
The Treasury Statement said Broken Tooth was a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an allegation which was refuted by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“This is another proof that some people in the U.S. are fabricating lies and unscrupulously attacking and smearing China. It's just despicable,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Thursday.
The Treasury Department has sanctioned three Cambodians for human rights violations, including Hing Bun Hieng, logging tycoon Try Pheap, influential military leader Kun Kim; and the Chinese-owned Union Development Group, which is building a mega tourism project in Koh Kong province.