​Business tycoon started small | Phnom Penh Post

Business tycoon started small


Publication date
19 November 2004 | 07:00 ICT

Reporter : Sam Rith and Richard Wood

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<em>Writers Sok Chanphal and Phou Chakriya at Monument Books. Their work appears in Just a Human Being: the first collection of Cambodian short stories available in English. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days</em>

A floating dredge designed and built in Phnom Penh by Mong Reththy engineers: It operates at Keo Pos port, keeping channels and births free of sand buildup. The dredge is towed but has a 550-horsepower engine to drive its digging head and pumps which remove sand by floating pipeline. The 30-meter-long dredge cost $80,000 to build locally - the alternative to a $1 million import.

Mong Reththy, one of Cambodia's richest individuals, is a self-made man who says

he has never bought favors, not even his Okhna title.

He exports rubber, palm oil, livestock, builds roads and buildings, and he is now

operating his own port, built for $10 million cash.

But he is haunted by a shadow hanging over him from the past: in April 1997 one of

his containers was opened at Sihanoukville port and, packed inside an export shipment

of rubber, was seven tons of seeded, compressed, shrink-wrapped marijuana.

Reththy at the time denied all knowledge of the weed, saying he sold the rubber for

cash to another party for shipment to Sri Lanka and the concealed cargo had been

added without his knowledge.

Nobody was ever arrested, despite what appeared to be intensive police interest.

The cargo owner could not be traced as the shipping documents had been falsified.

Put Reththy's name into an internet search and it will find statements saying that

he was linked to a major drugs bust. That's all it says.

Reththy, in the first in-depth media interview he has given, told the Post: "I

was accused of planting and smuggling marijuana. I have tried to ignore it. I have

never even smoked a cigarette in my life, so how could I do business like that?

"I only do what is legal. I became an Okhna legally as well, I did not buy my


This title was awarded by the Prime Minister Hun Sen and they are long-standing friends.

Reththy was the fifth child of 12 siblings, five of whom died under Pol Pot.

"I lived as a monk at Takeo for six years from the age of 16 because my parents

were poor. I came from Takeo to Phnom Penh in 1979 and stayed at Wat Neakavan. I

worked at the Ministry of Public Affairs, department of traffic signs, from 1979

to 1989."

Reththy, now 50, was married to Man Son (now 48) along with 12 other couples during

the Pol Pot regime. They have three sons, two daughters, and four grandchildren.

After the government job he embarked on a course to work hard, save money and start

his own business. He was a porter at the Phnom Penh Port for more than a year, shoulder-toting

heavy sacks of rice and cement off and on ships. When the port was idle, he worked

on building construction sites.

"I realized that the port was a good business. I wanted to establish my own

port since that time. But I could only think about it because I did not have money.

"When I had saved $1,000 I started the Mong Reththy Import-Export Company, in

about 1989. I exported rubber, corn, beans and sesame. After that I imported cars,

cement, steel and construction equipment."

When he was establishing his oil palm plantation on state economic concession land

on National Road 4 in 1997, he went to visit Keo Pos village, "where I heard

from people that there is the sea, 15 kilometers away. At that time I walked because

it was an area controlled by the Khmer Rouge and you could not drive a car in."

Keo Pos is about 76 kilometers by road north of Sihanoukville and 179 kilometers

southwest of Phnom Penh. It is also one toll station closer to the city.

"I thought that it was a good place to establish a small port to export crops

to compete with other countries when the country became peaceful.

"I was looking forward to it for a long time," Reththy said.

"After Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the government's 'open skies policy'

to encourage importing and exporting, I got approval from the Cambodian Development

Council (CDC) to build a port. I did not pay bribes, I never have.

"I started building the port in late 2003 and it officially began operating

on August 1, 2004. The wharf is 309 metres long and 22 metres wide. I also built

the road 15 kilometers long and 15 meters wide. I spent more than $10 million, including

the wharf, 60 hectares of land, and road.

"Compared to the Kampong Som port, mine is just a small one. I bought all the

material and equipment directly without doing much planning. I used my money to build

the port without joining with other businessmen or the government. I did not borrow

money; I have always paid cash.

"I would like Cambodia to have a private port to serve the customer properly."

Reththy said Cambodia has other small private ports in Kampot, Sre Ambel and Stung

Haov, but these were not active commercial operations.

Three months ago he started building a new 200 meter wharf, 63 meters wide, extending

out into water about eight meters deep, which will allow larger draft ships to berth;

the depth at the first wharf is 6 meters.

"It will cost about US $10 million to build the new wharf and at least five

years to recover the cost. The first wharf has officially operated for three months

and it needs six months promotion to attract customers. My port is capable of handling

cement, 2,000 tons per day. We charge $1.20 per ton for the loading and lifting service.

So far we have had 100 ships in and they earned about $100,000 for the company.

"The government gets tariff income from my port every month, and I also have

to provide facilities for the police, Camcontrol and Customs.

"They just sit in the office and collect the tariffs, I don't know how much.

I get my revenue from service only.

"I expect that there will be a lot of ships come into my port when the new wharf

is finished. I want all these ships to be unloading cargo here and transporting crop

products out."

Mong Reththy and his wife, Man Son.

Reththy says he is strongly in favour of competition. "The more ports we have,

the better off we are. If there is only one port, a high price is demanded for the

service cost. For example, in the case of having only one port, a customer exports

one ton of corn for a profit about $10; but he has to spend $5 for port service.

Thus, will the customer export the corn?

"If there are many ports, he can find one that is cheaper.

"It's like going out to eat. Two places have delicious noodles, the same as

each other; but one place costs 1,500 riel and the other costs 1,000 riel. For me,

I go to eat at the place that costs 1,000 riel even if the other one is my relative's


While he is developing his port, Reththy is also setting up a refinery at his palm

oil factory, which he hopes to have in operation by 2006.

"I started exporting palm oil in 2002. So far, I have sold about 5,000 tons

of oil to Malaysia to refine as palm oil products, which we then import to Cambodia.

We have only crude palm oil, we do not have the refinery because of uylot [colliqual

for ot luy, or 'no money']." He also exports 10 percent of his production to


"It costs $100 per ton for a round trip of palm oil to Malaysia and I have to

pay another $30 to have one ton of crude refined into palm oil products. If we have

our own refinery we will get profit of $100 per ton.

"We have planted 578,934 oil palm trees since 1997 on 4,000 hectares of land,

and plan to plant another 255,600 palms in 2005 on 1,800 hectares of land. We have

land in total of 11,000 hectares. The tree takes four years to mature to harvest

the fruit for processing."

Today he is exporting cows, buffalos and palm oil. In the future, he plans to export

processed corn and bean products.

"I export from 10,000 to 15,000 cows and buffalos a year to Malaysia; it's up

to the buyer to decide whether they are for slaughter, fattening or breeding. No

matter how many cows we have, Malaysia could buy them all. It is driven by demand,

not costs or shipping distance.

"This is the first time that Cambodia has been able to export animals. In the

past, other countries were afraid to buy from us because of the disease risks. I

now have a safe place to feed cows and buffalos in Sihanoukville. I am feeding 3,000

cows and buffalo in that place.

"Malaysia imports buffalos from India, 500,000 head a year, and hundreds of

thousand of goats, sheep and cows from Australia.

"I feel sorry that we do not have enough cows to export to Malaysia. The orders

average 100,000 head per year.

"Cambodian farmers are now trying to feed cow and buffalo, but most of them

still do not have enough money to get started. People depend on rice farming, but

that needs flooded paddies, and if there is a drought they are very vulnerable. If

they feed cows and buffalos as well as grow rice, they do not have to worry about

flood or drought. They just wait and sell their cows or buffalos.

"This year the price of cows and buffalos is higher than previous years. Cows

sell from $0.80 to $1.10 per kilogram liveweight and buffalos from $0.70 to $1 per


His livestock buyers purchase cows and buffalos from people in Kampong Chhnang, Pursat,

Battambang, Banteay Mean Chey, Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri, Stung Treng, Preah Vihear,

Kratie, Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu, and Kampot.

"I rent a Malaysian ferry for $20,000 per month to export cows and buffalos,

and I have to pay the expenses. It takes four days to arrive in Malaysia.

"I make a profit from $0.10 to $0.20 per kilogram of cow or buffalo. One animal

weighs from one to two tons. I buy on the scales at whole liveweight. Buying from

the farmer has risks because the farmer always demands a high price and I sell according

to the current international price."

Reththy says he has actually been exporting cows and buffalos since 2000. "The

government let me operate the port temporarily then because I was seen as helping

development of the economy by buying cattle from citizens for export. The government

does not demand a tariff from me on cattle exports to Malaysia. It's like I am helping

to feed the poor Cambodians.

"I could think of many other kinds of business, but it depends on the political

situation in Cambodia. It is difficult to predict the future in terms of good business

investment. It is like our lives that we do not know when we are going to die."

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