PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – The U.S. Treasury has imposed sanctions on a businessman and a senior government official with close links to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, accusing them of corruption.
The measures come as western countries step up pressure on Hun Sen over a crackdown on the opposition and after the United States expressed concern over Cambodia’s military ties with China.
The U.S. Treasury said it had sanctioned Kun Kim, a former joint chief of staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), over his role in a real estate development in Koh Kong province and his relationship with Chinese state-owned entity that he reaped significant financial benefit from.
“Kim used RCAF soldiers to intimidate, demolish, and clear-out land sought by the (People’s Republic of China)-owned entity. Kun Kim was replaced as RCAF Chief of Staff because Kim had not shared profits from his unlawful businesses with senior Cambodian government officials,” the department said in a statement.
Three members of Kim’s family and five entities that are owned or controlled by these individuals were also sanctioned, the department said.
Cambodian tycoon Try Pheap, a member of Hun Sen’s ruling party, was also sanctioned for building a large scale illegal logging consortium with collusion of officials.
Try Pheap’s 11 Cambodia-registered entities were also sanctioned.
Kun Kim and Try Pheap could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Ruling party spokesman and Senator Sok Eysan said the sanctions were ineffective and only served as the support for opposition.
“They don’t have assets abroad and if they are stupid to keep assets outside, let them freeze,” Sok Eysan told Reuters.
“They did this just to support their puppets, it’s not effective,” he said, in reference to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) which was dissolved in 2017.
The CNRP dissolution paved the way for Hun Sen’s ruling party to win all the seats in parliament in an election last year.
The United States has called for the release of detained opposition leader Kem Sokha. It has also voiced concern at reports Cambodia is cooperating with China on a naval base, something Hun Sen has denied.
Cambodia has also come under growing pressure from the European Union, which is considering the scrapping of trade preferences over Cambodia’s crackdown on the opposition.