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US imposes sanctions on Oknha Pheap and Kun Kim

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Cambodian tycoon Oknha Try Pheap. Post Pix

US imposes sanctions on Oknha Pheap and Kun Kim

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed strong dismay on Monday over the designation of Cambodian tycoon Oknha Try Pheap and General Kun Kim under the US’ Global Magnitsky Act.

“It is very disturbing when the public figures of a country become the subjects of the punitive measures of another country based on groundless accounts and accusations that are in total disregard of the legal and judicial independence of the country,” the ministry said in a statement.

The reaction came after the US Department of Treasury on Monday placed sanctions on Pheap and Kim and his family, citing the two figures as having had directly or indirectly engaged in corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

“Pheap has used his vast network inside Cambodia to build a large-scale illegal logging consortium that relies on the collusion of Cambodian officials, to include purchasing protection from the government, including military protection, for the movement of his illegal products,” the treasury department said.

It said Pheap had used the Cambodian military to enable his timber trafficking activities and sell to buyers in Vietnam, China, Europe, and Russia. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 11 Cambodia-registered entities it said are owned or controlled by Pheap.

For Kim, the treasury department said he was instrumental in development projects in Koh Kong province and had reaped significant financial benefits from his close relationship with a Chinese state-owned entity.

Kim had used Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) soldiers to “intimidate, demolish, and clear-out land sought by the PRC-owned entity”, it said, referring to the official acronym for China.

Five entities owned or controlled by Kim’s three children were also designated in the Global Magnitsky Act.

US embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg confirmed the US had imposed financial sanctions and visa restrictions on Pheap, Kim and his wife and children for corruption pursuant to Executive Order 13818.

“As a result, their assets within US jurisdictions are blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them and their entities.

“These actions were taken to protect the integrity of the US financial system and ensure corrupt actors, [Kim’s family] and companies do not benefit from our system and cannot travel to or spend their ill-gotten gains in the US,” she said.

Zeeberg continued that the move supported Cambodia’s anti-corruption efforts and would help stop the illegal trade in timber and wildlife.

Cambodia’s foreign affairs ministry said the executive order undermined the government’s ongoing efforts in restoring trust and confidence between Cambodia and the US as reflected in the recent two-way communication between Prime Minister Hun Sen and US President Donald Trump.

It said the move was a serious violation of the international principles of sovereign equality and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states as enshrined in the charter of the UN and other international laws.

“His Excellency Kun Kim is well-known for his great contribution to the protection and maintenance of peace, stability, and social order while Oknha Try Pheap has played an active role in supporting Cambodia’s socio-economic development,” it said.

Neither Pheap nor Kim could be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the government also deplored the US treasury department’s sanctions on the two figures and would review the US’ move.

Meanwhile, he said Cambodia would continue to defend itself against the accusation based on justice and integrity.

“This is the first time that our citizens have been sanctioned. We regret this and will seek justice and integrity in a diplomatic way in order to protect Cambodians. This is the task of the government,” he said.

However, political analyst Em Sovannara said the US’ latest sanctions were not the first for Cambodian figures. Washington, he said, had previously imposed visa restrictions on high-ranking Cambodian military officials.

Sovannara said the sanctions could affect bilateral relations and called on the government to lodge a complaint with the international court to prove its innocence.

“What strikes me the most is that the US president sent a letter to Cambodia, and in response, the government said it would restore bilateral relations.

“But while the relations were improving, the US imposed sanctions on Cambodians. This would make it hard to see the relations restored,” he said.

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