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Gov't audit shows Vietnam Rubber Group missing millions

A rubber plantation in a Vietnamese-owned concession in Kratie province
A rubber plantation in a Vietnamese-owned concession in Kratie province last year. Heng Chivoan

Gov't audit shows Vietnam Rubber Group missing millions

Contentious plantation giant Vietnam Rubber Group reportedly “lost” nearly $391 million of state funds over five years, including $22.75 million from a rubber plantation in Cambodia, an official investigation into the firm’s dealings has found, according to Vietnamese media.

Hanoi’s anti-corruption body, the General Inspectorate, last week concluded a years-long investigation into the state-run company, which reportedly owns more than 160,000 hectares of land concessions in Cambodia.

In what it called a “major violation”, the audit found that one of VRG’s subsidiaries, Phu Rieng Kratie Co, had lost nearly $23 million since it began cultivating its 6,400-hectare Snuol district plantation in 2007.

Leng Rithy, VRG’s representative in Cambodia, confirmed media reports of the audit, and said he was unsure why it had found such huge losses.

“We will finish planting 100,000 hectares this year and plan to begin harvesting in 2016,” he said. “We don’t have any problems, so our future looks fine.”

In 2011, VRG said it had invested $200 million in 100,000 hectares of plantations in Cambodia. Companies are legally allowed to own only 10,000 hectares in economic land concessions.

Vietnam is in the process of selling off shares in its state-owned companies, including VRG, which is planning to close or sell off 40 per cent of its subsidiaries as part of the scheme.

In February, Phu Rieng Kratie Co transferred 90 per cent of its shares to a Singapore-registered company called Kratie Plantations Holdings, owned by investor David Gardner.

Gardner, who could not be reached by phone or email yesterday, is listed as director of Asian and African investments for Global Forest Partners, a multibillion-dollar US-based investment fund which has received money from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation to conduct climate change mitigation programs.

In November last year, Gardner became director of the board of another VRG subsidiary with a 10,000-hectare rubber plantation in the same district.

According to a Global Witness report released last year, VRG has 161,344 hectares of rubber plantations in the Kingdom.

“Global Witness is worried to hear about the investigations into VRG’s financial mismanagement, especially at a time when the company finally appears to be taking the land dispute problems associated with its operations in Cambodia and Laos seriously,” said Megan MacInnes, land campaign leader at Global Witness.

“The Phu Rieng - Kratie Company and Cambodian subsidiary of Dong Nai were both investigated by Global Witness [in 2012] ... so we very much hope both plantations can be covered in this review.”

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