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Defence minister denies export claim

Defence minister denies export claim

Defence minister Tea Banh yesterday denied allegations from a lawyer for a Taiwanese mining company who claimed that a firm linked to a general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces had exported copper through a naval port using military vessels.

A lawyer for Taiwan’s Hong Tung Resource Co Ltd announced plans last week to sue the Nim Meng Group for US$96 million for allegedly defrauding his clients and seizing imported mining equipment. RCAF Major General Nim Meng and his wife, Lay Sineang, served on the board of directors for the aborted joint-venture project between the two companies, and Lay Sineang is the director of Nim Meng Group.

Hong Tung and Nim Meng Group began working together in July of last year on a copper mining project in Siem Reap province’s Chi Kraeng district, formalising their partnership in January of this year under the name Nim Meng Sinohope Group Company, according to a draft copy of the Hong Tung complaint.

The Nim Meng Group abruptly terminated this partnership in February, the complaint alleges, adding that the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy subsequently transferred the licence for the concession from Nim Meng Sinohope Company, the joint venture, to Nim Meng Group.

The complaint also alleges that the Nim Meng Group has exported nearly 3,500 tonnes of copper though the Ream military port in Preah Sihanouk province using Cambodian naval vessels, a claim rejected by Tea Banh.

“I would like to confirm that so far, no Cambodian naval vessels and soldiers have been involved with the export of copper or other business activities at the Ream military port in Sihanoukville,” Tea Banh said.
“Naval vessels are used for the benefit of military works and activities,” he said. “They are not allowed to be used for private business purposes.”

Photos provided as part of the complaint and seen by The Post depict men loading cargo onto a large ship. Hong Tung claims the men in the photos are loading copper onto Cambodian naval vessels in July of last year on behalf of the Nim Meng Group, though no identifying markings are visible on the ship and the claims could not be independently verified.

Kouy Thunna, a lawyer for Hong Tung chairman Cheng Tung Ko, said last week that the use of such vessels by Nim Meng Group constituted a breach of the joint venture agreement with Hong Tung.

“I think that this is a violation of the agreement made by Nim Meng Group, because my client has demanded that any export of minerals must come through the Sihanoukville port, but they made it through the military port,” Kouy Thunna said.

Nim Meng Group representatives could not be reached for comment yesterday, though Chea Sok Chan, a lawyer for Nim Meng and Lay Sineang, told Voice of America last week that his clients planned to file a defamation lawsuit against Hong Tung in relation to the naval vessel allegations aired publicly by Kouy Thunna.

“This accusation is not true and it has really affected my clients’ names and their honour,” Chea Sok Chan said.

Nim Meng Group has already filed complaints accusing Hong Tung of fraud and breach of trust, Chea Sok Chan added, with the parties set to appear before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on April 25.

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