The Cambodian government has expressed “strong dismay” over a U.S. Treasury decision to sanction two businessmen suspected of corruption and illegal logging. A Foreign Ministry statement said Tuesday that the sanctions were based on groundless accusations.
“The Executive Order is an ambush against the ongoing efforts to restore trust and confidence between Cambodia and the United States,” the statement said.
It defended both of the influential businessmen and former officials targeted by the sanctions, which freeze their U.S.-based assets and ban doing business with them.
The ministry “expressed strong dismay over the arbitrary designation” of the Cambodian citizens, saying they had made great contributions to the country’s development.
The U.S. Treasury Department said it had designated Try Pheap and 11 companies owned or by controlled by him for sanctions for alleged graft and illegal logging. The companies engage in various businesses including tourism, real estate development and energy.
It said Pheap had built up a vast illegal logging network that purchases protection from government officials and the military and export lumber to Vietnam, China, Russia and European countries.
Pheap has responded to past corruption allegations in Facebook postings saying his businesses are all legal and abide by the law.
The Treasury Department also designated former Gen. Kun Kim, three of his relatives and their family businesses for sanctions for allegedly engaging in corruption and illegal extraction of natural resources.
Kim is a longtime associate and supporter of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and now is the senior minister for veterans’ affairs. The businesses and people cited in the announcement also are involved in rubber plantations and financial and security services.
Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said the sanctions, announced Monday on International Corruption Day, targeted people and entities based in Latvia, Serbia, Venezuela, Hong Kong and Cambodia suspected of illicit activities that “undermine the foundations of stable, secure and functioning societies.”
The human rights group Global Witness welcomed the Treasury Department’s announcement, saying both Pheap and Kim are suspected of serious human rights and environmental abuses.
“As Hun Sen’s supporters have accumulated more and more wealth and impunity, their incentive to help him cling to power has increased,” Patrick Alley, director of Global Witness, said in a statement.
“Accountability for those sustaining the corrupt dictatorship that is oppressing Cambodians on a daily basis is long overdue,” he said.