Cambodia under Hun Sen is far from the dream destination for investors Tuesday’s Davos event – dubbed "Cambodia: the rising star of ASEAN" – suggests. In power for more than 30 years, Hun Sen’s government has systematically quashed political opposition including through the murder, torture and arbitrary imprisonment of critics. The premier’s regime is propped up by a huge network of secret deal-making and nepotism that emanates from the Hun family and underpins the Cambodian economy. This reality poses huge legal, financial and reputational risks for investors.
“It’s not surprising that Prime Minister Hun Sen is courting the wealthy elite at Davos. He and his family have Cambodia’s economy so sewn up that new investment may well end up in their own pockets,” said Alice Harrison from Global Witness. “The Davos summit claims to be ‘committed to improving the state of the world’. If this is true, it should close its doors to despots like Hun Sen.”
A 2016 Global Witness investigation exposed how members of the Hun family have amassed vast fortunes in Cambodia’s private sector, while much of the population lives in dire poverty.
Companies that Hun family members own or control span most of Cambodia’s lucrative industries, with links to international brands like Apple, Nokia, Visa, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé and Honda.
The family includes a shady cast of characters. Among them are members once implicated in a $1 billion heroin smuggling operation, shoot-outs and a fatal hit-and-run. Global Witness’ report, Hostile Takeover, also linked them to land grabs that have caused mass displacements and destitution among Cambodia’s rural poor.
“Global Witness has already shown how members of Hun Sen’s family have links to a number of popular international brands. Investors or companies looking to do business in Cambodia should think carefully about the significant legal, financial and reputational risks of operating in such a toxic business environment,” said Harrison.
Cambodia is already heavily dependent on foreign capital. The UK is the second largest foreign investor in the country after China. The US is Cambodia’s biggest trading partner and export market, with trade between the two countries totalling around US$3 billion a year.
Cambodia is set to host the World Economic Forum on ASEAN in May 2017.
Alice Harrison, Campaigner, Land Team
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