A Cambodian government official has described allegations made by Australian media group Fairfax Media as “baseless” and untrue after its investigation claimed that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s family received a large payment in 2010 from Australian gaming firm Tabcorp, which was exploring the possibility of obtaining a gaming licence at the time.
The investigation findings, published yesterday in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, claimed that in 2010 Tabcorp wired A$200,000 to a company “linked to the sister of Prime Minister Hun Sen,” via an unnamed Cambodian consultant in the United States.
It said the firm, which was then headed by Elmer Funke Kupper – currently CEO and managing director of the firm that operates Australia’s primary stock exchange – eventually did not go through with setting up sports betting operations in Cambodia.
The investigation report noted that “the Tabcorp transaction may have broken both Australian and US anti-bribery laws, which prevent a benefit being given to a foreign official or their representative in order to obtain a business advantage.”
Phay Siphan, spokesperson for the Council of Ministers, categorically rejected the allegations, adding that the prime minister never accepts cash contributions from private-sector companies, and any such contributions would go to a social fund managed by the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
“I think that these allegations are baseless,” he said. “The PM has no habit of receiving cash from anywhere or anyone.”
“If a contribution from a private company is made it goes to the social fund for building schools or roads,” he continued. “The social fund is not for personal use.”
Tabcorp released a statement late on Tuesday confirming that it was under investigation by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) following the Fairfax story about “a payment concerning a Cambodian business opportunity.”
“Today we were advised by the Australian Federal Police that they have commenced an investigation in relation to this matter,” the statement read. “Tabcorp will fully cooperate with the investigation.”
Fairfax Media’s investigation claimed Tabcorp was seeking a gaming licence in Cambodia for its sports betting subsidiary, Luxbet, in the hopes of establishing an online gaming platform that could tap into the Asian gambling market ahead of the lucrative 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Tabcorp said while some Asian countries were considering deregulating sports betting in 2010, the firm “chose not to pursue the opportunity and the business was never operational”. An AFP spokesperson confirmed to the Post yesterday that an investigation was underway against Tabcorp.
“The AFP can confirm it is conducting an investigation into allegations of foreign bribery relating to an Australian company [Tabcorp],” the spokesperson said. “As the investigation is currently ongoing, the AFP will not be commenting further at this time.”
Section 70.2 of Australia’s Criminal Code Act 1995 deals with bribery of a foreign public official. The maximum penalty for an individual is 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of A$1.7 million, whereas corporates can be fined A$17 million or three times the value of benefits obtained, whichever is greater.
Similarly the US’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has anti-bribery provisions for persons or entities caught making unlawful payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business.