US issues graft advisory, sanctions officials over naval base in Cambodia

WASHINGTON • The United States has stepped up its campaign against corruption in Cambodia, issuing an advisory to US businesses on Wednesday and blacklisting two government officials accused of scheming to profit from construction work at Cambodia's biggest naval base.

The US State Department, Treasury and Commerce Department jointly issued the advisory for companies doing business in Cambodia "to be mindful of interactions with entities in corrupt business practices, criminal activities and human rights abuses".

Such risks include dealings in the financial, real estate, casino and infrastructure sectors, as well as with entities involved in trafficking people, wildlife and narcotics, and related risks in timber and manufacturing, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

The US Trade Representative's office would review Cambodia's trade benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences for developing countries once Congress reauthorised that programme, which expired last year, he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Treasury slapped sanctions on Cambodia's navy commander Tea Vinh and director-general Chau Phirun of the Cambodian Defence Ministry's Material and Technical Services Department, accusing the two of planning to share funds skimmed from the Ream naval base project.

The base in the Gulf of Thailand has drawn concern from Washington over China's growing military presence there. The sanctions freeze US assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with the parties involved.

The US State Department on Wednesday also barred the officials and several of their family members from travelling to the US. "The United States will not stand by while corrupt officials personally benefit at the expense of the Cambodian people," Ms Andrea Gacki, director of the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

A year ago, Cambodia said it had razed a US-funded facility at the Ream naval base to allow for further expansion. The US said Cambodia had a year earlier turned down its offer to repair the base.

The US last month accused Cambodia of a lack in transparency over Chinese construction activities at the base, and urged the government to disclose to its people the full scope of Beijing's military involvement.

Cambodia has moved closer to China to become one of its most important allies in South-east Asia, at a time when Washington is seeking to counter Beijing's growing influence in the region.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2021, with the headline 'US issues graft advisory, sanctions officials over naval base in Cambodia'. Subscribe