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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Government okayed toxic waste

Government okayed toxic waste

THE Cambodian Government gave approval to a local company to import 25,000 tonnes

of Taiwanese toxic waste including chemicals, asbestos and refinery residue according

to documents obtained by the Post.

The approval by the Ministry of Finance and the Department of Customs was granted

on August 15 1997; the Ministry of Commerce gave its okay on September 4, 1997.

In a letter from the company, Bophary James, to the Director of Customs the nature

of the waste was specified.

It included: asbestos dust and fibers 3000 T, ceramic based fibers similar to asbestos

3000T, waste tarry residue from refining, distillation and pyrolitic treatment of

organic chemicals 3000T, 11,000 T of materials containing high levels of PCBs, PCTS

and PTT - all dangerous organic chemicals and 5000 T of lead-acid accumulators eg

car batteries. Most of the waste is highly toxic.

Another 15000 T of used cars, electrical appliances and scrap metal were also included

in the application.

The letter was signed and approved by the then director of Customs Sar Ho, now a

national assembly member for the CPP, with the rider that the waste be inspected

by Societe Generale de Surveillance and at least 50 percent had to be reusable.

The SGS is an international Swiss-based organization that does pre-inspection reports

of cargoes and then produces a report.

Sar Ho confirmed he had signed the letter and had been aware at the time of the dangers

of the waste but he said it was the responsibility of the SGS to give final approval

for its importation.

However the SGS said that they never inspected the shipment but that would be no

barrier to its importation.

An SGS source said that if an importer has the import permit but omits the SGS inspection

the cargo can still be landed but the importer must pay a fine of 5% of the cargo's

value to the customs department.

It is unclear if the shipment was ever made. The Customs department said they did

not know and an official there doubted they could even find out from the records.

There were persistent rumors of other toxic waste importations in the wake of the

Sihanoukville mercury waste scandal but it was never proved other shipments were

made.

An NGO contacted by the Post provided the text of a letter from a Government official

who overheard plans last year to bury waste in 55 gallon drums on an island off the

coast of Sihanoukville. The writer said that the conspirators were concerned to have

the shipment made before Greenpeace found out about it.

The Bophary James offices have been abandoned and the landlord there said the principal

Kong Bophary was now in France.

There has been no official comment from the Government on the matter, Hun Sen advisor

Om Yien Teng said he was too busy to talk when asked about the matter as did environment

minister Mok Mareth; the Director of Customs was also unavailable.

The document was given to the Post by Chang Fu Kung, one of two employees of Taiwan's

Jade Fortune International import/export company convicted in absentia last month

for "conspiring to damage the environment" for their role in exporting

the Formosa Plastics waste from Taiwan to Cambodia.

"I don't understand why the Cambodian government is so upset about that waste,"

Chang Ku Fung said indignantly in reference to the Sihanoukville dumping. "Just

two years ago [the Cambodian government] invited our company to send much larger

quantities of toxic waste to Cambodia."

As proof, Chang produces a copy of the letter from Bophary James Import and Export

Co. Ltd of Phnom Penh notifying Jade Fortune International of the approval of 40,000

metric tonnes of "...industrial and public waste from Taiwan for process[ing]."

"These chemicals approved on this document are banned for importation all over

the world, but the Cambodian government approved them," Chang protested. "It's

hypocritical that two years later they should get upset about the waste we exported."

Chang is ambiguous about whether the deal with Bophary James Import and Export Co.

Ltd actually went through.

Meanwhile an Environment Ministry Officer who asked not to be named said he was appalled

by the proposal and the Govern-ment's endorsement of it.

He said the major problem was what has happened to it. He said if it was disposed

of with the collusion of the armed forces or police it could have ended up anywhere

and not be properly stored.

He said no-one had sought permission from the Ministry to import the waste but that

was not surprising because permission would not have been granted. For this quantity

and type of waste it was likely millions of dollars in bribes would have been paid.

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