AN advisor to Senate President Chea Sim is allegedly raising money to build a US$5.53 billion Angkor Wat-style temple in Svay Rieng province, officials said yesterday. However, a number of people claim the project is a fraud.
Chhoem Mono acts as both an advisor to Chea Sim and president of the Community Buddhist Supporting for Cambodia Organisation, an NGO seeking financial support from “various international donors” to build the temple, said CBSCO Deputy President Chan Sokeath.
He claimed his organisation was approved by the Ministry of Interior in 2003 and planned to build 13 temples in the model of Angkor Wat.
The temples will be built from “cement and brick, not from the original stone such as that from an ancient temple”, he said, though construction has not yet started on the project.
“We will take a very long time to finish the construction of the temple, and after that we will hand it over as a national asset for the government,” he said. Chan Sokeath said CBSCO so far has built only a Buddhist school on the site in Andong Trabak commune in Svay Rieng’s Romeas Hak district.
District police chief Shum Ry confirmed the presence of the school, adding that intermittent construction of some kind at the site has been going on for at least three years.
Chhoem Mono claimed he had received money from Chinese donors, Shum Ry said, though “he did not mention whether it was Chinese business or government officials” who made the donations.
Chhoem Mono is said to be touting a number of apparently fake documents, seen by The Post, including a letter of support from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and a blueprint of the temple with the ministry’s seal, to convince potential donors his project is real.
Among the documents, which are fraught with misspellings, is a list of projects planned by CBCSO. Those include the Svay Rieng temple, “premary schools”, a “drincing wateir well”, and a “wasted treatment plant facility”, among others, totalling $19.63 billion.
Also included is an apparently forged letter of intent from Barclays Bank to release billions of euros to a person named as Bradley L Heinrich. There is no information as to how Heinrich is connected to Chhoem Mono, and Barclays said it was company policy not to disclose information about clients.
Chhoem Mono also reportedly carries with him an “award contract” that implies $500 million has been transferred between someone named Tony Nin Thorng, an alleged 70-year-old Cambodian holding a Canadian passport, and an account at ANZ Royal Bank held by Chhoem Mono.
The letter, dated April 2007, is from an organisation called the Tofic Foundation in Montreal, Canada. The Post could find no proof of such a foundation, and a man speaking Mandarin who answered the listed number said he had no knowledge of the organisation.
ANZ Royal Bank Chief Executive Officer Stephen Higgins said the project, and the documents used to legitimise it, were a fraud. “The common feature to a lot of these scams is using implausibly large
numbers, which seems to convince some people that it is a legitimate transaction,” he said.
He said that, to his knowledge, no Cambodian bank has ever received a one-time transfer of $500 million and only four banks had total deposits of more than that amount. “The Cambodian economy could not cope with a one-off cash infusion of that size. It is an out and out fraud,” he said.
Higgins said fraudsters often use ANZ Royal’s name to lend legitimacy to their transactions, “but we simply don’t get associated with people such as this”.
ANZ Royal first heard of the alleged scam when a man who said his family had been duped into investing in the project brought the documents to one of the bank’s Phnom Penh branches. The man declined to speak with the press, as he feared for the safety of his family.
Chhoem Mono could not be reached for comment. Officials at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said they were unaware of the construction in Romeas Hak district, while officials at the Ministry of Cults and Religions said they did not know of CBSCO. Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, also said he had not heard of CBSCO.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING SINUON PECH AND DON WEINLAND