Minister of Interior Sar Kheng has expressed concerns that recent money laundering cases involving huge sums will see Cambodia placed on a global financial blacklist.
He called on the authorities to crack down hard on the crime or the Kingdom would be “dead” as it suffers resulting difficulties in transferring money internationally.
Sar Kheng, who is also deputy prime minister, was presiding over the swearing-in ceremony for the capital’s newly elected councillors at Phnom Penh Municipal Hall on Wednesday, during which he said Cambodia was already under monitoring after being placed on the organisation’s “grey list”.
“Just one more step and we could be put on the blacklist if we don’t forcefully crack down [on this crime]. Those who commit this crime benefit but it is only they who do. They take money to buy land and this makes land prices increase."
“The nation will be dead in the sense that one day Cambodia could be placed on the blacklist because of money laundering. This is the end. I cannot say 100 per cent, but we would face huge hardships. There is a huge risk of this happening,” Sar Kheng said.
In February, Cambodia was placed on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list after being removed in 2015.
The FATF is an intergovernmental organisation that tackles money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
In late April, authorities arrested three Chinese nationals at Phnom Penh International Airport and confiscated $3.52 million. In May, another Chinese national was arrested at the airport, with $855,000 seized.
All those held said the money was brought in from Hong Kong.
Sar Kheng said authorities had forwarded the cases between each other but had not investigated the source of the money.
“In such cases, [you] must report to me immediately. The money is now at the bank. But there must be investigations to see where it came from. The suspects said the money was won from gambling. But there is no evidence of this. So what should we do?"
“If the money was legitimate, they would not look for others to help them move it,” he said.
Sar Kheng said the suspects sought people to help move the money by promising them a 10-50 per cent share.
“Why so generous? They said if it could be brought in, they were willing to give away 50 per cent of the money. If it was legitimate money, they wouldn’t need to do this. So this indicates that it’s not legitimate."
“This [order] will make those who benefit [from money laundering] uneasy, but we must do so for the honour of our nation. It is not a simple task – it is complicated, like drug crimes,” he said.
Deputy chief of National Police Dy Vichea said around $14 million had been confiscated in the first haft of this year.
Vichea, who is also the Ministry of Interior’s central security department director, told The Post last week that money laundering offences had increased due to the complexity of the crime.
“The offence of laundering money is nothing new. But because the nation has developed and technologies have advanced, we are training our officials so they do not fall behind the advancements. Our officials are not unskilled, but rather, there has been a surge in such offences.
“We need to focus our attention and want them to show interest because offences are cracked down on every day but we don’t always know which offences involve money laundering,” Vichea said.
Preap Kol, the executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said Sar Kheng’s concerns were valid.
He said while the recent successful crackdowns on money laundering at Phnom Penh’s airport should be attributed to the authorities, they also raised alarm as to the size of the problem.
“It is just the tip of the iceberg. Seaports and land borders must be watched more closely,” he said.