Cambodia's corrupt political elite is stripping the country of its natural resources, according to a new report published by UK-based NGO Global Witness today.
The report, ‘Cambodia's Family Trees', reveals for the first time how family members and business associates of the prime minister and other senior officials are illegally destroying Cambodia's forests with complete impunity.
Launched today ahead of an international donor-Cambodian government meeting on future aid to Cambodia scheduled for June 19-20, the report calls on the donors to start using their influence more effectively.
"Despite the huge amount of aid flowing into the country, the political culture of corruption and impunity means that Cambodians are still among the world's poorest people," said Global Witness Director Simon Taylor. "When are the donors going to start addressing the asset-stripping, mafioso behaviour of the current regime?"
The report details the activities of Cambodia's most powerful illegal logging syndicate - known as the Seng Keang Company - which is controlled by individuals related to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Chan Sarun and Director General of the Forest Administration Ty Sokhun.
This syndicate is the driving force behind a major illegal logging racket in Southeast Asia's largest lowland evergreen forest, Prey Long. Under the guise of a government-mandated rubber plantation, it has illegally logged vast tracts of forest, yielding a timber haul worth more than US$13 million annually. Its targeting of resin trees has damaged the livelihoods of hundreds, if not thousands of families living in the area. As the report shows, leading members of the syndicate are heavily implicated not only in illegal logging, but also in tax evasion, kidnapping, bribery and attempted murder.
Illegal logging in Cambodia not only fills the pockets of the political elite; it also funds the activities of a 6000-strong private army controlled by Hun Sen. The Brigade 70 unit runs a nationwide timber trafficking and smuggling service, catering to prominent tycoons, that generates profits of US$2 million to US$2.75 million per year. A large slice of these profits goes to commander of the prime minister's Bodyguard Unit Lieutenant-General Hing Bun Heang.
Despite evidence of widespread illegal activities and human rights abuses by Cambodia's armed forces, some donors, notably the US, have resumed military assistance to the government.
"If Cambodia's donors want the country's natural resources to be managed in a way which benefits the Cambodian people, then they must confront the high-level corruption which allows groups such as the Seng Keang Company and Brigade 70 to operate," said Taylor. "At a minimum, they must link all non-humanitarian aid to reforms that will make the government more accountable to the country's citizens. They can start by insisting that a credible anti-corruption law - which the government has been stalling for over a decade now - is passed immediately."
"In a few years time, Cambodia
will become an oil-producing country," added Taylor. "It is not too late for donors to insist
that the government lay the foundations for transparent revenue management.
Without this, however, Cambodia's
projected oil billions are likely to be siphoned off by corrupt politicians and
Cambodia's Family Trees can be downloaded from http://www.globalwitness.org
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Notes to Editors:
(1) Global Witness exposes the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems, to drive campaigns that end impunity, resource-linked conflict, and human rights and environmental abuses. Global Witness was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its leading work on ‘conflict diamonds' and awarded the Gleitsman Foundation prize for international activism in 2005. For more information on Cambodia, see other Global Witness reports and briefing documents, available at http://www.globalwitness.org/pages/en/cambodia.html
(2) International Donors to the Cambodian government currently supply the equivalent of over half of Cambodia's annual budget in loans and grants. In 2006, the donor community pledged to give US$601 million.
(3) The Seng Keang logging syndicate is led by Dy Chouch, also known as Hun Chouch, his ex-wife Seng Keang and Khun Thong, their business partner. This group operates under the name Seng Keang Company. Dy Chouch is the first cousin of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Seng Keang is a friend of Bun Rany, the wife of Hun Sen. Khun Thong is the brother-in-law of Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Chan Sarun and father-in-law of Director General of the Forest Administration Ty Sokhun. Seng Keang's brother, Seng Kok Heang, who supervises operations for Seng Keang Company, is an officer in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 70 unit.
(4) The Brigade 70 is an elite unit within the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. It acts as a reserve force for Hun Sen's 4,000 strong Bodyguard Unit. The two units comprise what is essentially a private army controlled by the prime minister.
(5) The Prey Long forest landscape in northern Cambodia is the largest contiguous area of dry evergreen and semi-evergreen forest left standing in mainland Southeast Asia. Situated to the west of the Mekong River, it covers an area of approximately 5250 km2. Prey Long's importance is highlighted in a number of studies of forest management in Cambodia, not least the 2006 World Bank Inspection Panel report (http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTINSPECTIONPANEL/Resources/CAMBODIAFINAL.pdf) and the 2004 Cambodia Independent Forest Sector Review (http://www.cambodia-forest-sector.net/docs/mainreport.pdf). It has been included in a tentative list of sites proposed for UNESCO World Heritage status. The Cambodian government is currently developing plans to clear tens of thousands of hectares of Prey Long to make way for plantations.
6 Resin tapped from various species of dipterocarp tree is an economically valuable commodity both within Cambodia and abroad. Recent studies estimate that at least 100,000 rural Cambodians derive part of their income from resin-tapping.