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Sar Kheng: Dirty money could harm development

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Three Chinese men arrested with nearly $1 million in cash at Phnom Penh International Airport​ on Tuesday last week. POLICE

Sar Kheng: Dirty money could harm development

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said on Wednesday that money laundering could become a major obstacle to Cambodia’s development and ordered the authorities to strengthen land, sea and air checkpoints as part of the campaign to combat the crime.

Sar Kheng’s order followed global money-laundering watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force, placing Cambodia on its “grey list” in February after it found what it called “significant deficiencies” that left the country vulnerable to flows of hidden illegal money.

Recently, nine people were detained in two seizures at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports of a combined total of $7.4 million in cash.

“The authorities must not back down in the campaign to combat money laundering at land, sea and air checkpoints or wherever it occurs. Our country’s reputation is at stake and we must uphold international laws."

“As I have said before, if they consider Cambodia a money-laundering destination, it will badly impact our banking system, including the national bank and private banks. This is a huge obstacle, so all of us must understand the problem in detail and not collude with offenders."

“It benefits some people, but we must put the national and public interest first. We are committed to addressing this problem,” said Sar Kheng, who is also deputy prime minister.

Kirth Chantharith, the director-general of the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration, said on Wednesday that National Police officials had been thoroughly investigating the money laundering issue in collaboration with international institutions.

“Now it is under investigation step by step. We questioned the offenders and their answers showed that laundered money rarely has a clear source. They all gave the same answer that they had brought the money here to invest in land and property."

“But in the Siem Reap case, they said they were hired to carry the money. They hide their identities and haven’t told us who they are,” Chantharith said.

He said the General Department of Immigration has begun making stricter checks at international borders after receiving the order from the ministry, and this is what led to the recent large-scale seizures.

Rights group Adhoc spokesperson Soeng Sen Karuna welcomed the government’s campaign to crack down on money laundering, saying that if Cambodia does not stop it, it could fall into the Financial Action Task Force’s “blacklist”.

“We are worried because we have now been put on the grey list. Next, we could be put on the blacklist and we’ll have trouble getting money to flow into the system via international banks."

“So in order to regain confidence, the government has to show there are mechanisms in place to prevent people laundering dirty money in Cambodia,” he said.

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