A SHADOWY organisation that has been accused of fraud in multiple countries is operating in Cambodia, raising concerns about government oversight and the potential defrauding of foreign investors.
Asia Real Property Co, Ltd – a firm with offices on Norodom Boulevard – identifies itself in promotional material as a subsidiary of an international real estate consultancy known as “ARP-OITC Group Co Ltd (Cambodia)”.
OITC is short for the “Office of International Treasury Control”, a group that has been implicated in a series of bizarre scandals from Ecuador to Fiji while making grandiose claims about its links to the United Nations and the United States government.
In addition to real estate consulting, ARP-OITC offers “bank instruments”, including high-limit lines of credit, to foreign partners, ARP-OITC executive managing director Soush Saroeun said in an interview this month. He said the company was working on three joint-ventures in Cambodia with companies from Vietnam, Canada and France.
“Though not generally or publicly known, OITC is the largest International Institution of its kind,” the organisation says in a brochure.
It claims to be “the largest single owner of gold and platinum bullion in the World” and “the largest single owner of Home Mortgage Securities in the World today”.
The OITC’s website is adorned with UN logos, and the group claims to have been granted “Sovereign Entity Status under the United Nations Charter Control No: 10-60847”. OITC assets are given “full International Protection and Immunity under Full Jacket Security Level 3-5 … under the Great Seal of America (No: 632-258894) on behalf of the International Community”, the site says.
“Ask the US embassy – they know me very well,” Soush Sarouen said.
UN and United States embassy representatives in Phnom Penh said, however, that they had no knowledge of the organisation. “After speaking with the UN headquarters we can confirm this group is not affiliated with the UN,” Ben Pursell, a spokesman for the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Cambodia, said. “Also, UN ‘charter control numbers’ do not exist.”
“The United Nations Office of Legal Affairs advises not to interact [with] such entities.”
Although ARP-OITC chairman Ray C Dam is touted in promotional material as an “economic adviser” to US presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush, a spokesman at the US embassy in Phnom Penh said the embassy had “no information about [Ray C Dam’s]
background nor have seen any evidence of a connection” to the US government.
“It’s fanciful on so many levels that it’s almost humorous,” said Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal Bank, who has reviewed ARP-OITC documents.
“Cambodia does not want to be associated with these kinds of scams.”
“The truth about OITC is very difficult for the common person to understand as they then need to understand many other issues,” Keith Scott, an Australian who identifies himself as OITC’s “Chief of Council of the Cabinet”, said in an email.
Scott declined to disclose his own whereabouts or those of OITC chairman Ray C Dam.
“In the past, [with] small-town reporters such as in Phnom Penh, we find reporters make up what they do not understand, and it all becomes total nonsense,” he said.
Indeed, it appears many have found the work of the OITC inscrutable.
The firm made an abortive US$5 billion bid for the British car company MG Rover in 2005, the Financial Times reported, puzzling accountants by issuing a down payment of 1 pound in the form of a postal order.
Later that year, the OITC surfaced in Ecuador, where its representatives reportedly offered $150 million in long-term credit to the small municipality of Oña for infrastructure projects in exchange for a $20,000 deposit paid by Oña mayor Germania Ullauri into a Malaysian bank account.
This line of credit never materialised, however, and in April 2006, Ullauri filed a lawsuit accusing Ray C Dam and two Ecuadorian associates of fraud, Ecuador’s El Universo newspaper reported.
Keith Scott surfaced in Fiji in March of 2006, where he reportedly offered $6 billion to be used toward the creation of a bank for local landowners.
Fijian police commissioner Andrew Hughes later said he was “profoundly suspicious” of the OITC’s offer; Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said “no one in their right mind” would inject so much money into such a small economy, the Fiji Times reported.
Keo Vanthan, the director of Interpol in Cambodia, said he had no information on Scott or the OITC.
Inroads in the Kingdom
Scott and his associates took an increasingly hostile tack with journalists in Fiji, with OITC Fiji agent Masi Kaumaitotoya warning at a news conference that media outlets who criticised the organisation could face legal action.
“Reporters, I give you a warning. Don’t you ever, ever, ever again report negatively on OITC or we’ll sue you for defamation,” Kaumaitotoya said, according to the Fiji Times.
The group has continued its litigious ways in Cambodia, filing a disinformation complaint against a journalist from the Cambodia Television Network in Banteay Meanchey province following his reporting on a local land dispute.
The journalist, Lay Li, was summoned to appear in court earlier this month in connection with his reporting on the dispute allegedly between the OITC’s Ray C Dam and Lay Saran, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces deputy commander in Phnom Srok district.
Soush Sarouen declined to provide contact information for Ray C Dam, and described his location as “around the world”. Phone calls to a number listed in ARP-OITC’s promotional materials for Ray C Dam’s office in Washington were not answered.
Soush Saroeun said CTN had “looked down on” his organisation with its coverage of the dispute in Banteay Meanchey, which centres on 7 hectares of farmland claimed by both Lay Saran and Ray C Dam.
Aside from the land in Banteay Meanchey, Soush Saroeun said ARP-OITC did not have real estate interests of its own in Cambodia, and had instead provided “bank instruments” and consulting on property and land concessions to foreign companies.
“I have many connections with the high officials to do this,” he said.
But Mao Pao, the deputy chief of the real estate division at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said ARP-OITC did not have a licence from the government to work in the property sector.
He said the finance ministry had contacted the company last month and told it that it needed to apply for the licence or face sanctions.
Earlier this month, Mao Pao said, the “director” of ARP-OITC had come to the Ministry of Economy and Finance to say that the company had not operated in the property sector since last year due to the global economic crisis.
“We want them to write an official letter to confirm that they’ve stopped their operations, but until now, we have not received a letter or any information yet,” Mao Pao said. “They have no licence to operate in the real estate sector in Cambodia.”
Soush Sarouen said it was “our plan” to get a licence from the Ministry of Economy and Finance in the future.
ARP-OITC also offers “credit facilities” and “loan assessment”, according to its promotional material, services that may also bring it under the authority of the National Bank of Cambodia.
NBC director general Tal Nay Im said she was unfamiliar with ARP-OITC, but that any company offering loans or credit needed a licence from the national bank.
ARP-OITC was not registered with the NBC as of last month.
In an interview earlier this month at his offices – which were home to a receptionist, two other staff members and modern computers and office equipment – Soush Saroeun offered only vague outlines of his company’s joint ventures in Cambodia.
The project with the Canadian company, he said, involved the construction of “local housing”, while the French company is working on “a movie in the US for Hollywood”.
The Vietnamese firm, Bao Phu Gia Company, plans to work as an importer, Soush Saroeun said. According to a copy of the contract between Bao Phu Gia and ARP-OITC, ARP-OITC has guaranteed $100 million in funding via HSBC Bank in exchange for a $200,000 payment from Bao Phu Gia for “bank-mobilisation fees”.
HSBC spokesman Gareth Hewett said in an email that the bank “tend[s] not to comment on these things”.
As proof of his firm’s connection with the global finance giant, Soush Saroeun offered a document dated December 29, 2009 and littered with spelling and grammatical errors that was signed by HSBC Group Finance Director “Dr David J Flint”.
As of December 2009, HSBC’s Group Finance Director was Douglas Flint.
ANZ’s Stephen Higgins called the contract “clearly a fraud”, and said it was “damaging to Cambodia’s image to have operations such as this in Phnom Penh”.
“Clearly, they’ve managed to fool people with this scam,” he said. “It’s so laughable, but you get enough people falling for it that people make money off it.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SOEUN SAY AND CHHAY CHANNYDA