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Waiting for the next step

Waiting for the next step

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Chris Muessel, a partner at VDB LOI, speaks to the Post this week in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

VDB Loi provides legal and tax solutions for transactions and investment in Cambodia. The company’s 25 foreign and local lawyers, tax lawyers, and tax advisers mostly focus on foreign investors. The Post’s Sarah Thust talked to partner Chris Muessel, coming from the US, about the stumbling blocks for expatriates in Cambodia.

What qualifies you to advise foreign investors?

Although VDB Loi has been operating just short of a full year in Cambodia, most of our partners, directors and staff have been working in-country for many years. Also, we are well experienced in the region, as we have six offices in Southeast Asia. Several of our partners are based in Cambodia, but we all travel quite a bit.

I came here first as World Bank counsel, advising the Council of Ministers in Cambodia on commercial laws. In Vietnam, I worked with Baker & McKenzie, the US firm Duane Morris LLP, Watson Farley & Williams and Rajah & Tann. At VDB Loi, I focus on cross-border merger and acquisition, real estate, project finance, compliance and trade.

What are the biggest challenges expatriate businesses face?

The legal framework can be a bit challenging, especially where some of the laws and implementing regulations are a bit vague. However, given our many years of collective experience in Cambodia, we’ve learned through repeated practise how to accurately interpret such laws and regulations.

Moreover, in many cases, espeacially on the tax side, VDB Loi’s partners and directors have provided training to government officials on international best practices and standards, which helps shape expectations with regard to interpretations.

Are there other challenges?

With regard to economic land concessions, as you may be aware, new concessions and transfers of existing ones have been temporarily suspended. However, most foreign investors are willing to be patient, and are awaiting the government’s next steps so that they can move forward with their proposed projects.

Does the issue of compliance make foreign investors hesitate to invest in Cambodia?

Every Southeast Asian country struggles with compliance issues, as do even developed countries, as for example the US, where I’m from. Cambodia is making progress in this area, in part prompted by the annual feedback from bilateral and multinational donors.  As an example, the creation of the Anti-Corruption Unit and the recent publication of official fees by some government ministries for various governmental services have been positive developments.

Moreover, many Cambodian lawyers have been focusing on compliance issues and international best practices related to the same.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Thust at [email protected]

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