Archive | Mafia RSS feed for this section

Happy Chinese New Year in Cambodia: Corrupt Govt Officials Hand Cash to Hundreds of Soldiers

11 Feb

Happy Chinese New Year in Cambodia

What a pathetic embarrassment the Cambodian government is, a B grade rip-off of the Lord of the Flies.

Happy Chinese New Year in Cambodia means hundreds of police, military police and Cambodian army soldiers gathering to receive cash envelopes outside the house of one of Cambodia’s biggest crime syndicate bosses tied to the murder, jailing, and beatings of poor Cambodians in the service of innumerable corrupt patronage contracts between Hun Sen’s ruling political party and selling off state assets and land concessions to China.

The house where the security services gathered in hordes to beg for corruption payoffs is owned by Cheung Sopeap, the wife of ruling Cambodian people’s party senior official Lao Meng Khun, who together own the Phiopemex company–a major financier of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany.

Hundreds of Soldiers and Police gather Outside Home of Corrupt Cambodian Crime Syndicate Seeking Chinese New Years Cash

Hundreds of Soldiers and Police gather Outside Home of Corrupt Cambodian Crime Syndicate Seeking Chinese New Years Cash

A corrupt elite who finance the Cambodian dictator, Hun Sen, and a small cabal of his corrupt cronies in power and their wives, have stripped the country of state assets, forests, oil and mineral rights, and forced thousands of villagers from their homes, in a rapacious orgy of selling the country to foreign investors—most notably China—in exchange for cash payoffs.

Phiopemex and similar front companies are given the protection and use of the army and security services to carry out what is essentially an organized criminal syndicate using the protections and benefits of a nation state–in exchange for cash to Hun Sen and a small group of former Khmer Rouge officials who have lined their pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years

More than 80% of the population lives in rural areas and 36% lives in extreme poverty, earning less than 50 US cents per day.

Pheapimex is one of Cambodia’s most powerful companies, led by a couple with extremely close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany. The company director, Lao Meng Khin, is a senator with the ruling Cambodia People’s Party. His wife, Choeung Sopheap (known as Yeay Phu) regularly appears publicly alongside the prime minister’s wife. Both Choeung Sopheap and Lao Meng Khin have  previously accompanied Prime Minister Hun Sen on his  diplomatic trips to China.

Pheapimex Owners Yeay Phu & Lao Meng Khin: The “Power Couple" Financing Hun Sen Who Control 7% of Cambodian Land Mass

Pheapimex Owners Yeay Phu & Lao Meng Khin: The “Power Couple” Financing Hun Sen Who Control 7% of Cambodian Land Mass

Pheopimex controls 7.4 per cent of Cambodia’s total land area through its logging and economic land concessions, having diversified since Hun Sen seized control in a bloody 1997 coup from a business portfolio to encompass concessions for pharmaceutical imports, hotel construction and special economic zones.

Since, Pheopimex has included hydropower dams and a notorious land grab in the middle of the capital Phnom Penh. The business empire has expanded to include mining across the country.

Pheopimex first came to prominence as a logging concessionaire in the 1990s in a forest industry dominated by illegal logging, murders, and land evictions, and enjoyed a long relationship with the Cambodian armed forces, using the military to provide security and exert control over its forest concessions.

Over the last few years, thousands of poor residents were thrown out of their homes in central Phnom Penh in a corrupt land deal which gave a valuable chunk of the city to Phiopemex.

In February 2007, the Municipality of Phnom Penh granted a 99-year lease to the private developer Shukaku Inc. over a 133-hectare area of prime real estate covering the lake and the nine surrounding villages, illegally stripping residents of their land rights, including Boeung Kak lake development and the surrounding land affecting 4,225 families.

On 26 October 2008, Shukaku Inc began filling the lake with sand causing flooding and the collapse of some houses. Water and electricity was cut. In September 2010, over 1500 affected families were forced to accept compensation for their homes and land well below the market value, with Shukaku Inc. offering a reimbursement of US$4000 for property despite property values assessed at over US$40,000.

The Boeung Kak settlement consisted of nine villages surrounding the iconic lake in central Phnom Penh and home to 4000 families.

By April 2012, 3500 families were coerced into accepting compensation for a fraction of the market value for their homes and land, driving many families into destitution.

The Boeung Kak evictions constitute the largest forced relocation of Cambodians since the Khmer Rouge evacuated Phnom Penh in 1975.

Displaced Villager In Phnom Penh from Corrupt Government Concession to Cronies

Displaced Villager In Phnom Penh from Corrupt Government Concession to Cronies

Shukaku Inc is a front company for Peophemex and is owned by Lao Meng Khin and his wife, both close associates of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, and major financial backers of the Cambodian People’s Party. The Chinese firm Erdos Hong Jun Investment Co., Ltd. formed a joint venture company with Shukaku Inc to develop Boeung Kak into a high-end residential, commercial and tourism complex.  The Cambodian Government granted permission to re-register the lease agreement in the name of the joint venture, called Shukaku Erdos Hongjun Property Development Co. Ltd.

Boeung Kak residents were denied title en masse, and residents denied the protection of a fair process for resettlement and compensation of people found to be residing on State land, in accordance with World Bank safeguards. The World Bank ruled on the side of the villagers, but the Cambodian government refused to cooperate with the Bank and turn, the World Bank informed the Cambodian government that it would stop providing loans to Cambodia and would not resume lending until there was a satisfactory resolution of the Boeung Kak case.

cam bkk-two cam2 cam3 cam4

Cambodia cracked down harder on the displaced villagers. In May, 2012, female residents of Boeung Kak staged a peaceful demonstration and were surrounded by a mixed force of military police, anti-riot police and district guards, who used violence to break up the demonstration and then arrested 13 women, including a 72-year old. Their trial began two days later on May 24th, and just one hour after charges against them had been filed. Requests by lawyers for a trial delay to allow them to prepare their defense, review the case file and evidence, and bring in witnesses were all denied. They stood trial at 2pm – without a lawyer – after court prosecutors spent the morning interviewing them. They were charged with “cursing public authority” and “encroaching upon the land of a public figure” – Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, the owner of Shukaku.

By 5:30 pm that afternoon, all 13 women had been sentenced to 2.5 years in prison. During the trial, the police arrested two more community representatives who were waiting outside the court prepared to testify as witnesses for the 13 women who were on trial.

In June 20th, 2012, the government reacted to local and international outrage by cracking down harder calling the 4000 villagers “prostitutes and terrorists”.

“Because there was an uncontrollable mixed renting by all kinds of people, this area turned to be an insecure place, shelter for criminals, gangsters, drug dealers, prostitutes and terrorists,” the Phnom Penh municipality said. Boeng Kak had, as a result, suffered from a “disappearance of national customs, traditions and Khmer culture.”

The extent of government corruption in Cambodia is so stark that revenue from illegal logging is several times that derived from legitimate enterprises. A USAID report titled “Cambodian Corruption Assessment” stated that “grand corruption involving illegal grants of logging concessions coexist with the nearly universal practice of small facilitation payments to speed or simply secure service delivery”.

“Forestry and mining concessions are signed behind closed doors … no one outside the system knows what proportion of earnings go to pay taxes, what proportion go to international businesses as excessive profits, and what proportion are transferred to foreign bank accounts.”

The tentacles of graft reach up to the highest levels, where officials maintain their position thanks to control of patronage systems that substitute for a system of government in Cambodia.

Cambodia could have earned enough revenues from its oil, gas and minerals to become independent of foreign development aid according to Global Witness, but high-level corruption, nepotism and patronage have siphoned the countries resources into the pockets of a few and left the country dependent on foreign aid and starving for access to health care, education, and basic rights.

The small number of powerbrokers surrounding the prime minister–members of the ruling elite or their family members– are the beneficiaries of these deals where millions of dollars are paid by Chinese oil and mining companies to secure access to these resources, never reaching state accounts.

“The same political elite that pillaged the country’s timber resources has now gained control of its mineral and petroleum wealth. Unless this is changed, there is a real risk that the opportunity to lift a whole generation out of poverty will be squandered,” said Gavin Hayman of Global Witness.

In 2012, the killing of journalists and environmental activists, thousands of forced evictions, the murder and beating and imprisonment of those protesting land grabs, allegedly including torture and in at least two cases murder, have dominated the mundane reality of Cambodian politics. A 15-year-old girl in Kratie province was shot dead as security forces tried to wrestle control of a plot of land away from local villagers to make way for a Russian rubber plantation that had been promised to a private firm in a land grant by the Cambodian government, and a well-known environmental activist was gunned down in April while investigating illegal logging and government corruption.

In a U.S. embassy cable released by WikiLeaks in 2011, the US embassy Phnom Penh outlined the symbiotic relationship between the Hun Sen government and corrupt cronies. “These business leaders contribute money to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Hun Sen” and which these “symbiotic relationships illustrate the networks of business tycoons, political figures, and government officials that have formed in Cambodia, which reinforce the culture of impunity and limit progress on reforms such as Hun Sen’s self-declared “war on corruption.”

cam Choeung Sopheap (aka Yeay Phu) with Hun Sen

The US embassy cable titled the owners of Pheapimex “Yeay Phu & Lao Meng Khin: “Power Couple” said the business owners were “One of the most politically and economically connected couples in the country (after Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife and Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh and his wife)” and said they “are the co-owners of Pheapimex Fu Chan Co. Ltd, a controversial logging company that has expanded to cover salt iodization, iron ore extraction, bamboo cultivation, pharmaceutical imports and hotel construction….(and) now has access to at least 315,028 hectares of land for agribusiness.

The cable said “ Phu, who is of Chinese origin, uses her contacts in China to attract foreign investment from Chinese companies such as Wuzhishan LS and Jiangsu Taihu International. Her husband, Lao Meng Khin, is a Vice President of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, and he serves as a CPP senator and advisor to Hun Sen. Together, they have a joint venture with Sy Kong Triv through Wuzhishan LS for a pine tree plantation in Mondulkiri Province. This dynamic duo has a rather strong relationship to Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany. Lao Meng Khin has accompanied the Prime Minister on more than one trip to China, while Yeay Phu, who is a board member of the Cambodian Red Cross, is reportedly a close friend and business associate of Bun Rany. Yeay Phu is also a business associate of Tep Bopha Prasidh, the wife of the Minister of Commerce; and Ngyn Sun Sopheap, the wife of the Director of the National Department of Customs and Excise. The Pheapimex couple’s son is married to the daughter of Lim Chhiv Ho, the Managing Director of Attwood Import Export Co., Ltd. In addition to Khmer, Lao Meng Khin speaks Mandarin Chinese and Yeay Phu speaks several Chinese dialects.”

Websites Hacked of Cambodian Secret Political Police and Supreme Court Charged with both Protecting the Assassins of Political Opponents and Jailing Opposition

10 Jan

Websites Hacked of Cambodian Secret Political Police and Supreme Court Charged with Both Protecting the Assassins of Political Opponents and Jailing Opposition

Two Cambodian government ministries web sites were hacked this week and defaced in the latest in series of cyber attacks against the authorities.

The National Military Police and Supreme Court Web sites were breached and defaced by separate hacker and hacker group on Tuesday, with visitors to the Web site of  the National Military Police on Tuesday greeted by a picture of a masked man wearing a red cape. Above his head, there was a word printed in capitals: “Hacked”.

If you logged on to the Supreme Court site you would have been met by a message in the top left hand corner, “hacked by Hmei7”, the signature of an Indonesian hacker, who claimed to have attacked 70,000 Web sites worldwide.

This means in the last year since 2012, hackers have breached the Web sites of at least 7 major government ministries, including the National Police, Ministry of Agriculture,  Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy,  the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Hacktivist group Anonymous breached Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and stole 5,000 documents which included people’s passport information and visa requests from the hard drives as revenge for the arrest and deportation of Swede Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, co-founder of file sharing Web site, The Pirate Bay, who had taken refuge in the country after fleeing Sweden after being convicted  of illegally sharing proprietary information from the internet.

The National Military Police are the Cambodian Government’s specially trained political police, tasked with cracking down on political opponents to dictator Hun Sen, and are documented to be involved in widespread organized crime, including kidnapping and murder for ransom, prostitution, and torture and killing of political opponents.

The Supreme Court stands accused as being entirely politically controlled by Hun Sen and his small cabal of corrupt elite, who have sentenced numerous journalists, elected parliamentarians, social, land, and environmental activists to prison sentences while protecting those guilty of  murdering other activists and journalists from facing legal sanction.

Phu Leewood, former secretary-general of the government’s National Information Communications Technology Development Authority, noted the government does not have the skills and education and the security of government Web sites will “take time”, he told the Cambodian Daily.

After the government’s first recorded cyberattack in 2002, all Web sites were hosted from the same server with a frequently updated firewall, but since 2010, each ministry has been responsible for its own online security and every Web site has its own server, most with no firewalls, because government employees do not know how to use it, Leewood explained.

Somalia Pirates Hijack North Korean Ship, Then Decide it Isn’t Worth it and Turn Themselves In

21 Dec

Somalia Pirates Hijack Norean Ship, Then Decide it Isn’t Worth it and Turn Themselves In

December 20, 2012

By Nate Thayer

Somalia pirates hijacked a North Korean ship on Tuesday only to have second thoughts after the hijackers decided it wasn’t worth the hassle or effort and have turned around and now headed back to a Somalia port to turn themselves in.

Sources told Reuters that security forces guarding the North Korean-flagged vessel were involved in the hijacking of the ship and its 33 crew on the vessel late Tuesday night.

According to local sources, 8 soldiers decided to hijack the ship and after traveling for several hours, the hijackers argued amongst themselves over their decision, some of the men regretted the hijacking. After heated debates, the rogue security forces decided to return the ship and contacted Puntland security officials of their decision.

The MV Daesan, a North Korean ship with a load of cement was seized by Somalia authorities in November after the cargo of cement was rejected by importers in Mogadishu who claimed that it was of inferior quality saying it was wet and unusable. The Somalia purchasers refused to pay or take possession of the order.

Somalia pirates decide hijacking a North Korean sip isn't worth the hassle

Somalia pirates decide hijacking a North Korean sip isn’t worth the hassle

The North Korean ship then allegedly dumped the rejected cement at sea.

The ship and its crew of 33 was seized, impounded, and fined last month by Puntland autonomous region authorities on Nov. 17. It has remained in custody and the fine unpaid.

Puntland security officials say two coast guard boats are chaperoning the MV Daesan back into Puntland waters where the case over the MV Daesan dumped 5,000 metric tons of cement 13 nautical miles east of Bossaso coast is still ongoing at the local court.

North Korea, one of the most isolated and poorest countries in the world having its goods rejected as inferior by another of the poorest most rogue nations, Somalia, and then having even its pirates decide that it was not worth the effort to hijack a North Korean ship, was not reported by official Pyongyang media.

The Gulf of Aden has been the focal point of sea piracy in recent years, forcing the ships to stop and pirates boarding, taking the crews hostage, tow the vessels into Somali ports and demand millions of dollars in ransom.

About 3.4 million barrels per day of oil flowed through the choke point between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden off of Somalia last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

About 136 hostages taken in the Indian Ocean off Somalia are still being held captive, but the number of hijackings of ships has dropped to seven in the first 11 months of this year compared to 24 in the whole of 2011. NATO records show a fall in pirate activity with no ships hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia for the last six months. NATO is one of the international bodies providing international warships to provide security along the Somali coasts.

Attempted hijackings are also down, suggesting that pirates are concluding that the risk is not worth the effort. Unsuccessful attempts dropped to 36 this year, from 189 in 2010.

A spokesman for the International Maritime Bureau in London was quoted as saying that the ships pirates are able to hijack are often owned by companies that cannot afford to pay a ransom to free the crew.

“The business model is breaking,” Cyrus Mody said, but he noted that piracy seems to be rising on Africa’s West Coast.

The establishment of a new Somalia government, including the election of a parliament and a President, and the appointment of a Prime Minister and a cabinet, has played a major role in decreasing piracy activities. Somalia military forces have recaptured of a number of the ports along the Somali coast in recent months. Somalia’s Supreme Court is reported to have said that pirates seized by international security forces can now be tried inside the country.

Obama: Support Cambodian Human Rights, Democratic Freedoms, and Those Resisting the Last Murderous Thug Left Standing in South East Asia

18 Nov

Obama Must Side With the Rights and Dignity of  Cambodians, Not Strengthen the Last Thug Left Standing in Power in South East Asia. If Not Cambodia, where? If not now when?

If the U.S. won’t support those fighting for democratic freedoms in Cambodia, a country no longer with significant political, economic, military, or strategic value to the region or world, the poster child of  the modern era for unspeakable suffering by government, then where else on earth will they?

Villagers feel totally helpless as they see no recourse against official arbitrary violence and abuses. Deprived of any means to seek justice, even when their children are taken away and being murdered, they swallow their anger and sadness, bow to the powers that be, accept with resignation their fate and withdraw in silence, knowing after long years of oppressive experience that words can kill.”  1994 UN Center for Human Rights confidential report.

The United States Government is almost as afraid of former Khmer Rouge military officer, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, as the millions of Cambodians who suffer in fear living under the incompetent jackboot of  the rapacious, corrupt failed nation state he controls.

Hun Sen in a fit of rage on 14 Nov 2011

And by the U.S. supplicating itself to the threats of a childish temper tantrum of an obscure toothless dictator whose decades old modus operandi is to only employ his violent thuggery against the weak and vulnerable, the Obama administration is damaging the reputation of America as a defender of the principles of human rights, democratic institutions, and the dignity of man by succumbing to the implicit blackmail threats of a tinpot ruler.

Portraits of President Barack Obama on the roof of houses near Phnom Penh Airport November 14, 2012.182 families are being evicted ahead of Obama’s visit. 8 were arrested for writing the appeal the day before the arrival of U.S. secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta and on the eve of the arrival of Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama

The so called non-conundrum at issue is either continue to bankroll the egregious Cambodian government repression, mute criticism of their use of murder by U.S. funded and trained security forces, keep quiet about the use of intimidation as routine policy by top leaders to line their pockets with corrupt money obtained through subordinating the common good of the nation to line their personal bank accounts, and demanding the U.S. make excuses for the total subjugation of the judicial system to political dictates as a tool to erase dissent in a an amateurish imitation of Singapore, and continue to bankroll with U.S. money which funds, strengthens, and gives legitimacy to this crudely transparent farce of a veneer of democracy or Hun Sen will take the proverbial football and go play only with China.

But even if one sets aside the immorality and cowardice of such a stand, it is a policy that has failed in its diplomatic objective. The evidence of such a strategy in which America has lavished hundreds of millions of dollars to finance and strengthen dictatorship, line the pockets of the corrupt leadership, and give moral support for the most egregious architect of oppression by government in Asia today has long proved itself to be a failed strategy.

“Please use your liberty to promote ours.” –Aung San Suu Kyi

In 2012, the last murderous thug left standing in power in South East Asia is shamelessly living off the decades old fumes of the suffering of it people decades ago under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge as an excuse to maintain the most murderous and corrupt government remaining in South East Asia today. And the Obama administration, acting like a gaggle of easily impressionable high school students, is falling for the ruse as the Cambodian government snickers derisively while consolidating its incompetent, thuggish control of the government propped up by the misguided sympathy and money of the properly organized countries who effectively pay for any services normally provided by a state while its rapacious leaders stuff their pockets with the change.

Hun Sen defending the murder torture and summary execution of scores of his opponents when he seized power by violent coup in 1997

Anyone who objects is humiliated, intimidated, sued, imprisoned, or murdered.

Cambodia, the last running sore in Southeast Asia, is a failed state. Not because it needs to be, but rather because it leader’s put their personal interests in front of  the common good and they are aided and abetted by the wealthy nations, who more than thirty years after this strategy was first employed still fall hook, line, and sinker for it.

Carnage scene after the grenade attack on opposition politician Sam Rainsy March 1997 carried out on Hun Sen’s orders, according to a repressed FBI investigation. Two months later he ousted the UN elected government in a 3 billion dollar effort. His putsch left hundreds dead and tortured, with their eyes gouged out, tongues ripped out with pliers, and penises cut off and stuffed in the victims mouths–all while alive. Thousands of opposition supporters fled to the jungle or to exile, and the fragile democracy was over. The U.S. refused to call the violent overthrow of the elected government a coup, as that would require the cessation of U.S. aid under U.S. law

Let’s look at the facts: Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge were in power for three years eight months and 20 days more than thirty years ago. They were ousted by an internecine ideological dispute between communist governments and the United States  in 1979 by a Soviet sponsored invasion of Vietnam, not because the invading army objected to mass murder and crimes against humanity as state policy, but because their loyalists were next on the target list of Pol Pot’s profoundly delusional and murderous state policies.

]The Vietnamese installed in power a motley collection of former Pol Pot loyalists who served as puppets for the Vietnamese and their larger cold war allies until they could stand on their own feet. They remain in power today. The current prime minister, Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, Interior Minister, Finance Minister and thousands of provincial and local government leaders and officers in the security forces that comprise the current Cambodian government were loyalists of Pol Pot.

Former Pol Pot military officer and current Prime Minister Hun Sen flanked by two other former Pol Pot senior officials. On Hun Sen’s right is current Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who was a senior military officer under Pol Pot and to the Prime Ministers left is Current Finance Minister Kiet Chhon who was a personal aide to Pol Pot and didn’t leave the Khmer Rouge until the 1990’s, more than a decade after they were driven from power in 1979

Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong, a former Khmer Rouge leader of a prison camp where scores were sent to their torture and execution as intellectuals deemed enemies while the current Foreign Minister headed the political prison camp

U.S. secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta on Friday in Cambodia where he met with his counterpart, Defence Minister Tea Banh, a former Khmer Rouge military officer who has overseen hundreds of political murders by his subordinates under the current government

One can argue whether this was at the time necessary or appropriate, but one cannot argue it is not fact. Cambodia stands as a nation state mainly as a symbol of some of the most egregious abuses of human rights and crimes against humanity as state policy of any government in our lifetime. Neither before or since Pol Pot, has a Cambodian government distinguished itself with much notable, the least of which is a willingness, or ability if one is to be pessimistic, to administer its affairs in a manner that is in league with the properly organized world. It is a failed state; a dependency political culture that has been unable to provide the most rudimentary of services that define a government, including education, health care, economic opportunity, a physical infrastructure of transportation, security, or basic freedoms, dignities, or opportunities for its citizens. More than half of its government budget is direct funding of donor nations. In sum, it is the last running sore of South East Asia, a failed state. It lives off the alms and misguided generosity of the it’s more capably organized neighbors and the wealthy nations of the world.

Senior Hun Sen security service officer Mok Chito at trial of the killing of a military police officer who himself assassinated conservationist Chut Wutty, Mok Chito has been trained and funded by the U.S. miltary. His office first claimed the assassinated conservationist committed suicide after shooting the military officer. The assertion was rejected as absurd by eyewitnesses and forensics and another military officer who was working for a private company connected to the government illegally logging national forests was convicted under intense international pressure earlier this year, but was later released from prison.

The net result is this has empowered a cabal of thugs, overwhelmingly dominated by former loyalists of Pol Pot, to create a personal fiefdom to enrich themselves, their families, and their minions.

The good people of Cambodia, meanwhile, suffer, unspeakably.

Assassinated journalist Khim Sambo funeral ceremony 2006

In a few hours, president Barrack Obama will be the first U.S. president to ever visit Cambodia. And it is probable that the representative of the symbol of hope for millions to support freedoms basic to the dignity of those aspiring to be, and be supported to attain, lives of a free people will take the side of the dictators, giving their tormentors moral support and money, with a wink and a nod accompanied by obligatory empty rhetoric promising long never forthcoming support to those who desperately deserve the tangible support in their heroic efforts to simply be free; To live a life where they have opportunities to create a better life for their children; where they can object to the abuses of those with guns , money, and political power without fear of death or reprisal; who have had their jackboot of the authorities firmly held on their necks of the great majority of Cambodian citizens, for many, for their entire lifetimes.

A cambodian elderly woman removes her shirt baring her breasts in protest to police violence and arrests of others who were forced from their homes after Cambodian government gave the land to politically connected Chinese developers offering the poor residents no compensation

Anti-riot police force against peaceful protesters in front of Phnom Penh Court trial of an independent journalist sentenced to 20 years prison in 2012. The journalist had received U.S. funded training in workshops on the concepts of the importance of a free press as independent voices in a democracy.

And the most offensive aspect of this reality is Cambodia is a country where the United States along with virtually all the rest of the planet has virtually no strategic, economic, or political tactical or strategic interest in 2012. There is no more cold war. There is no significant powerful  business interests to kowtow to. There is no war or insurgency group that needs to be quelled.

Opposition elected parliamentarian Om Radsady murdered

In sum, there is no downside to standing up for the principles of freedom and the dignity of the rights of man in Cambodia. If the U.S. cannot do so in Cambodia, where else on the planet will they? If they cannot stand on the side of human and political rights in Cambodia today, when will they ever in that cursed nation or elsewhere?

Cambodia is surrounded by economically booming competently led countries. The region has gone from 18 separate wars 20 years ago, to zero today. The cold war is over and there are no proxy armies fighting the interests of larger regional or superpowers using Cambodian territory as a hot theatre. Cambodia and it people have suffered unspeakably under a series of egregious thuggish regimes. There is no downside to standing up to supporting the principles of democracy, human rights, free speech, a free press, corruption, military abuses, and thuggish abuses of those with money, guns, and political power that deny its citizens the equal ability to access the economic, educational and human opportunities to live free and access the means to live a peaceful life free from want and fear of government abuses.

Thousands of Cambodian opposition protesters fill the streets of Phnom Penh Sunday, Sept. 13, 1998. Thousands of protesters calling for the ouster of strongman Hun Sen braved a heavy clampdown Sunday and marched through the capital to cheers from Phnom PenhÕs citizens, who threw them food and honked car horns in support. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

But Pro-Hun Sen supporters arrived jumping from their trucks to attack opposition protesters during the parade through the streets of Phnom Penh, paid by Hun Sen and protected by government security forces who stood by and protected the violent government attackers

Thousands of Cambodian opposition protesters fill the streets of Phnom Penh Sunday, Sept. 13, 1998. Thousands of protesters calling for the ouster of strongman Hun Sen braved a heavy clampdown Sunday and marched through the capital to cheers from Phnom PenhÕs citizens, who threw them food and honked car horns in support. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

In the recent past hundreds of voices of dissent have been silenced by the government enforcers of Hun Sen. Hundreds have been murdered directly for expressing opinions. Journalists have been assassinated, jailed, sued, and forced into exile. Opposition politicians have been victims of the same tactics and fate. Prominent environmentalists have been killed. Thousands of peasants have been forced off their land without compensation, scores shot, and jailed for objecting. Buddhist monks have been threatened with arrest. The main political opposition leaders have been silenced, threatened, murdered, and forced into exile. Many of them have been accused of preposterous crimes for objecting.

Thirteen arrested residents from Boeung Kak lake community evicted from their land which was given to a Chinese developer arrive at Court in June 2012 handcuffed and dressed in prison uniforms. They were arrested four days after the departure of Secretary of State Clinton, who gave inneffective lip service to the peaceful protestors. Photo Meng Kimlong Phnom Penh Post

Phol Srey Phors, 10, and 8 month old brother outside prison where their arrested mother and seven others held 15 November 2012 for writing SOS and placing photo of Obama on roof of their homes

Yet Hillary Clinton and Defence Minister Leon Pannetta and regional leaders swept in and out of Cambodia without even addressing the situation.

On Thursday, Hun Sen’s entirely politicized armed security forces arrested villagers for plastering the U.S. president Obama’s picture on their rooftops beside spray-painted messages of “SOS” as they faced forced government eviction from their homes without compensation. Dozens of police ordered villagers to remove the rooftop artwork and  arrested those responsible.

“We didn’t mean any harm. We just wanted Obama to help us,” said 23-year-old villager Sim Sokunthea.

Villagers were arrested Thursday for painting SOS on their roofs and attaching portraits of President Obama days before his scheduled arrival.

The next day, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrived on Friday and met with former Khmer Rouge military commander and current defense minister general Tea Banh and promised increased assistance to Cambodia.

The Pentagon has quietly deployed teams of Special Operations forces to train counterterrorism and special-warfare forces despite overwhelming repeated indisputable documentation of the security forces virtually sole mission to repress, murder, intimidate, and imprison advocates of effective voices of dissent against government murder, repression of any voices of dissent, jailing and intimidation of any and all voices that dissent from the corrupt dictatorship that runs the government.

Protestors against eviction from their land

Land disputes have become a critical social and political issue in Cambodia, which Prime Minister Hun Sen has led for nearly 30 years. Powerful companies with influential connections to Hun Sen and his top loyalists take over land and evict villagers, who receive little or no compensation. The problem has sparked unrest nationwide, with deadly force repeatedly used by security forces to evict villagers.

And now, on the eve of Obama’s visit, more than 10,000 security forces have been assigned to keep order during the summit as part of Hun Sen’s determined effort to show Cambodia’s best face to the outside world.

U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Pannetta greeted by Hun Sen’s son at arrival in Phnom Penh on Friday, four days ahead of President Obama. Hun Manet was sponsored and paid for by the U.S. to attend West Point military academy and further studies at New York University. Hun Sen’s other two sons have also been given special U.S. funded training in a bid to improve relations with what is believed will be an attempt at a hereditary dictatorship similar to North Korea

Villagers were arrested thursday for painting SOS on their roofs and attaching portraits of President Obama days before his scheduled arrival.

And now once again, Cambodia is likely to fall victim to being used as a playground by outside powers vying over influence in regions outside their own borders, in a strategy that should have been soundly discredited as ineffective and counterproductive by post world war two modern history. The excuse this time to prolong the suffering of Cambodians to a fate none of the decision makers would accept for a moment to befall their own countries, is the growing competition for influence in Asia between the United States and China.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen agree to strengthen strategic cooperation and partnership between their two countries in March 2012

An October 31 letter by a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers called on Obama to confront  the long list of thuggish abuses of Prime Minister Hun Sen, including demanding politically trumped up legal convictions that forced opposition leader Sam Rainsy into exile be dismissed before the next set of what every honest observer has agreed has been a series of sham elections since Hun Sen seized power in a bloody, violent military putsch in 1997 that overthrew and rendered irrelevant the $3 billion dollar international elections held in 1993.

But Washington is as afraid of the ten cent dictator in Phnom Penh as Cambodia’s own citizens, fearing relations between Phnom Penh and Washington would suffer if they pressed for rudimentary democratic policies because Hun Sen would hand over political favour to China, resulting in a rise in China’s influence over the Hun Sen regime.

Cambodian Police beat, arrest women protesting eviction from their homes after corrupt land concessions given to Chinese companies brokered by senior Cambodian government officials

The argument is should human rights take precedence as a political priority in Cambodia to the detriment of other issues.  The answer is: what other issues?  Cambodia has long been for sale to the highest corrupt bidder precisely because of the absence of the basic tenets of democracy, and China now controls an extraordinary bulk of the economic benefits. A level playing field, free from corruption, with a functioning independent judiciary, and opposition political voices who didn’t fear death for engaging in debate on issues of national interest would be the fruits of defending and promoting and, indeed, demanding, democracy in exchange for the hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars now sent to line the pockets of corrupt organized crime figures who pose under the guise of and take refuge in the privileges of a recognized nation state.

Free Trade Union President Chea Mony places incense by photograph of his brother, slain labour rights leader Chea Vichea in Jan. 2012. Photo Phnom Penh Post

People light candles at site of killing of anti-logging activist Chut Wutty in Koh Kong province on May 11, 2012. Photograph Reuters

Australian academic Carlyle Thayer argues that Washington’s influence lies in its military support of  Phnom Penh. “The president should raise his [human rights] concerns. The U.S. should see how Hun Sen responds and work out a policy,” Thayer said. “But there are other issues at stake including U.S.-Cambodia defense relations, which is about the only major conduit of U.S. influence.”

Obama’s policy of engaging Asia as a new priority may well take the submissive position of subordinating support of basic democratic values and human rights out of fear of China using economic power to dominate the competition for influence. But, as is required by U.S. law under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which forbids U.S. companies paying bribes to acquire foreign contracts, it is impossible for the U.S. to become a significant economic investor in Cambodia to compete wit China’s corrupt status quo, or any other country with a similar official code of government conduct.

And such thinking ignores the massive popular resentment that Chinese complicity in the corruption in the pillaging of Cambodian private property, resources, and economy has engendered.

Cambodian police beat Khmer monk in 2007

In this case doing the right thing also happens to make good strategic political policy.

One might look to Burma as providing some degree of guidance. Washington’s hardline policy isolating Burma has forced the Rangoon authorities to, with important qualifications, cave to demands for allowing important levels of democratic freedoms, in contrast to U.S. policy towards Cambodia which has been to give a wink and a nod to egregious abuses as a tactic to attain closer relations and influence. The result certainly will be a decrease in Chinese influence in Burma, after decades of Beijing giving carte blanche to Rangoon in exchange for economic access to resources.

The reforms in Burma, however limited and tenuous, will certainly increase Washington’s influence there and will force a lone spotlight on Hun Sen as the last unacceptable thug among Asean countries, without a peer as the most repressive leader in Asia outside of North Korea.

Protestors against eviction from their land

Given Hun Sen’s rejection of constructive relations with any foreign powers, either regional or global, in the short term he is likely to throw what is akin to a childlike tantrum. But the fact is the lifeline of his government is economic assistance—free money—from bilateral and multilateral institutions who fund virtually all services normally the obligation of a government and compassion fatigue from the donor community is long overdue. What has given Hun Sen the most effective reassurance in recent decades is that his reputation has remained acceptably intact internationally regardless of his conduct. If that is compromised, there is little doubt the Cambodian government will have to adjust to the realities of what would be an entirely legitimate new set of conditions to prop up the collapsed dependency state of which is Cambodia today.

The record of murder, violence, intimidation, imprisonment, and abuse of government institutions to enforce the personal interests of the small cabal in power is overwhelming in recent years.

Scores of opposition supporters were killed during the UN administered election process between 1991 and 1993; More than a dozen journalists have been assassinated since Hun Sen seized power in a bloody coup in 1997; That coup saw more than 100 opposition supporters tortured, humiliated and summarily executed, many with their eyes gouged out, their tongues ripped from their mouths with plyers, and their penises cut off and stuffed in their mouths while alive. These included Deputy Interior Minister Ho Sok who was acknowledged by Hun Sen to have been executed in the Ministry of Interior compound; The 1999 acid attack on a 16-year-old Tat Marina by the wife of Svay Sitha, a senior government aide of Hun Sen official;

Victim of acid attack violence who survived-2008

The 2003 execution of Om Radsady, a popular elected opposition member of parliament in a Phnom Penh restaurant;

Opposition elected parliamentarian Om Radsady murdered

The 2004 killing of popular labor leader Chea Vichea;

Free Trade Union President Chea Mony places incense by photograph of his brother, slain labour rights leader Chea Vichea in Jan. 2012. Photo Phnom Penh Post

“tell them I want to kill them”–head of Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit responding to evidence that implicated him in a bomb attack against a peaceful protest led by opposition politician Sam Rainsy that killed and wounded scores

The 2008 killing of investigative journalist Khim Sambo and his son while the two exercised in a public park;

Assassinated journalist Khim Sambo funeral ceremony 2006

and the 2012 killing of environmental activist Chut Wutty by government security forces;

Chut Wutty assassinated in 2012 by Cambodian military in the employ of corrupt government illegal logging companies. He was a fearless, uncompromising opponent of corruption. When other forms of intimidation prove ineffective under the current Cambodian Hun Sen government, murder is the inevitable option to silence those who insist on using peaceful dissent to express political opinion. Assassination has been used without hesitation hundreds of times by Hun Sen and his cabal in power to ensure supine loyalty more akin to a mafia syndicate than leaders of a legitimate nation state,

The arrest and jailing for 20 years of Mom Sonando and other activists on October 1, 2012 on trumped up charges of participating in a purported “secession” movement, while three local activists were sentenced to terms of 15 to 30 years and three others to terms of up to 5 years. Sonando, 71, a critic of Hun Sen, had been arrested twice before for political activities and owned Beehive Radio, a politically independent radio station in Cambodia. His arrest came two days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s departure from the country after attending the Regional Forum of ASEAN;

Villagers pray for release of Mam Sonando at his trial where he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in 2012. Mam Sonando ran a politically independent radio station in Phnom Penh and received training by U.S. funded organizations promoting excersizing voices of a free press in Cambodia. His conviction and harsh sentencing was universally viewed as a political message organized by Hun Sen to silence anyone attempting to raise a voice of dissent to the Prime Minister. It isn’t just loyalty or agreement that is demanded, but supine obsequiousness.

U.S. funded anti-riot police force deployed against peaceful protesters in front of Phnom Penh Court trial of independent journalist Mom Sanada sentenced to 20 years prison 2012 for what are universally agreed to be politically concocted charges of sedition

On May 24 2012 a Phnom Penh court sentenced 13 women, including one 72 years old, to two-and-a-half years in prison for protesting evictions and demanding proper resettlement for people displaced by a development project owned by a Hun Sen associate and a Chinese investor in the Boeng Kak area of Phnom Penh;

Hundreds of Cambodians evicted from their homes after land sold to Chinese company with corrupt relationship with Hun Sen protest at Boeung Kak Lake. Within days after Secretary of State Clinton visited Phnom Penh in a public relaions coup for Hun Sen when she raised the issue of the complaints of the Boeung Kak residents, more than a dozen were arrested and sentenced to prison in what was interpreted as a direct rejection of the influence and interests of the American government.

In August and September2012  courts summoned the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions a prominent labor leader, charging him with inciting strikes by garment workers in Phnom Penh;

Acid violence survivor 2008

In 1997, the main opposition leader former finance minister Sam Rainsy was the target of an assassination attempt in a well-planned attack with grenades thrown into the crowd, killing protesters and bystanders, including children, and blowing limbs off street vendors. Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit was implicated as responsible and numerous witnesses reported that the assassins  ran to the closed and guarded home of Hun Sen. Witnesses told investigators from the United Nations and the FBI that the bodyguards opened the line to allow the assailants to pass into the compound. The bodyguards then stopped at gunpoint crowd members who were pursuing the grenade-throwers and threatened to shoot those who did not retreat.  Rainsy escaped with a minor leg injury.The FBI quickly investigated the attack under a US law providing the FBI jurisdiction whenever a US citizen is injured by terrorism. Ron Abney, a US citizen, was seriously injured in the attack and had to be evacuated to Singapore to treat shrapnel wounds in his hip.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is rushed from the scene moments after grenade attack U.S. FBI determined was carried out by Hun Sen

The FBI’s lead investigator interviewed soldiers and officers up the chain of command and concluded that only Hun Sen could have ordered the bodyguard unit to be deployed at the park. He has said he had enough evidence to file criminal charges. Yet in May 1997 the US ambassador ordered him out of the country.

Carnage scene after the grenade attack on opposition politician Sam Rainsy March 1997 carried out by Hun Sen’s orders.

A 2007 report by the nongovernmental organization Global Witness says: “The elite Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 70 [the official name of the bodyguard unit] unit makes between US$2 million and US$2.5 million per year through transporting illegally logged timber and smuggled goods.

A large slice of the profits generated through these activities goes to Lieutenant General Hing Bun Heang, commander of the prime minister’s Bodyguard Unit.” Hing Bun Heang has since been promoted and is now a lieutenant general and deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. The commander of Brigade 70 at the time, Huy Piseth, who admitted to the FBI that he ordered the deployment of Brigade 70 forces to the scene that day, went on to become undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Defense. “Handing out promotions to people implicated in massacring peaceful demonstrators shows cruel disregard for the victims,” Said Brad Adams, head of Human Rights Watch. “The message sent is that human rights abusers, no matter how egregious their acts, will not only go free, but will be rewarded.”

Cambodian Police beat, arrest women protesting eviction from their homes after corrupt land concessions given to Chinese companies brokered by senior Cambodian government officials

In 2012, the Pentagon is expanding counterterrorism assistance to Cambodia, training a counterterrorism battalion even though the nation has not faced a serious militant threat in nearly a decade.

The only terrorist force of consequence in Cambodia today is the armed security forces of the current government. The U.S. is training the armed forces of Cambodia’s former Khmer Rouge commander Hun Sen, who uses his military not against any non-existent external threat but almost solely to execute and intimidate political opponents.

Cambodia has no ordinary history of egregious dictators in charge of policies that violate virtually every major tenet of basic human rights and democratic institutions more than three decades after the Khmer Rouge were driven from power, after killing 1.7 million—or about 20% of the population.

Fleeing Phnom Penh residents carry their belongings along Pochentong airport Phnom Penh 1997 Hun Sen coup

But U.S. government policy has not been to stand up for the poster nation of modern inhumane government policy. Rather, it has been to coddle and be successfully intimidated by the successive leaders who were trained, schooled and members of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.

The current dictator, Hun Sen, an ex Khmer Rouge military officer who broke from the notorious group not because he objected to mass murder as a state policy, but rather that he was next on the list of targets, lost Cambodia’s only modern free election organized by a $3 billion dollar U.N. conducted 1993 elections.

Former Khmer Rouge military commander Chea Sim (L) shares a laugh with former Khmer Rouge military commander Hun Sen. Both now lead the current Cambodian government

Four years later he seized control in a bloody, vicious coup detat that left hundreds of opposition figures horribly tortured, thousands forced to flee the country, and every last vestige of minimal modicum of opposition politics silenced through, intimidation, murder, and imprisonment by his government.

The Pentagon and the State Department have responded to Cambodia, along with Burma, the last running sore of incompetence and corruption and thuggery in Asia, by not just downplaying and coddling the dictatorship, but financing and encouraging it to hardening its Stalinist organization of power.

For instance the Pentagon has embraced and financed a hereditary dictatorship promising to institutionalize the Hun Sen regime. Hun Sen now stands as the longest serving dictator in the world, holding power since 1979. All three of Hun Sen’s sons have been trained financed and encouraged by the U.S government to inherit power in Cambodia. All three hold influential posts in the Cambodian government and military.

Hun Sen and heir apparent Hun Manet, trained and paid for to study at West Point

Hun Manet, the eldest son, was sponsored by the U.S embassy and paid to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated in 1999. He earned a master’s degree in economics from New York University, also paid for by U.S funds. A deputy commander and major general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, Hun Manet is widely seen as the heir apparent to his father.

The U.S. military also paid for the prime minister’s youngest son, Hun Many, 29, to earn a master’s degree in strategic studies at the National Defense University in Washington in 2011.

And the U.S. military organized Hun Sen’s middle son, Hun Manith, a senior intelligence official, to be trained in counterterrorism in Germany, according to American diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

In 2008, the U.S. government created a special Cambodian anti-terrorism military unit ostensibly to combat al-Qaeda sympathizers. In 2003, a leader of an Indonesian al-Qaeda affiliate was hiding in Cambodia and other members of the group were charged with plotting to bomb the U.S. and British embassies in Phnom Penh.

But such sanctuaries are a direct result of widespread institutional official corruption of the Cambodian government which is sanctuary to more wanted criminals on Interpol lists than any other country in the world, notably European pedophiles, petty criminals, Russian and Asian organized criminal syndicates, and representatives of armed insurgencies purchasing weapons from dozens of groups from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh to the middle east, to Africa. It is precisely because of Cambodian government policy that exchanges sanctuary for such groups for corrupt payoffs to operate with impunity and protection of the Hun Sen government that they migrate to Cambodia. TO fund and strengthen these same forces is a misguided and counterproductive strategy of what on the surface is a clueless U.S policy.

Justice Cambodian government style

In the State department’s annual report on terrorist activity in  Cambodia in 2011, it listed no problems in the country. But the U.S. counterterrorism training has been expanded. U.S. Ambassador William E. Todd singled out Hun Manet for his leadership and praised the performance of his troops this year saying: “Your commitment to training, your dedication to perfection, and your willingness to sacrifice for your country clearly demonstrates this unit’s unspoken pledge to be the best counter-terrorism force in Southeast Asia,” according to the U.S. Embassy’s Web site.

Although terrorism is not on the list of Cambodia’s problems, the Pentagon’s reasons to continue  training is a means of increasing access and influence, but none of either has been focused on defending or promoting or strengthening democratic institutions. By financing and training and encouraging not just Hun Sen’s cabal of loyalists, but his immediate family directly benefits the Cambodian prime minister, ensuring that with his own in charge Hun Sen can rely on the loyalty of the armed security services to any dissent or challenge to his rule. The U.S. military counter terrorism training is run by a U.S. Special Forces group based at the U.S. Embassy.

Police beat Cambodian peaceful protestors 2012

“We support Cambodia in its development as a responsible regional partner,” said Lt. Col. Brad Doboszenski, a spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command, Pacific and “is guided by U.S. policy objectives, not personal relationships.”

U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Pannetta greeted by Hun Sen’s son at arrival in Phnom Penh four days ahead of President Obama

Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Catherine Wilkinson said “We have to make sure we’re not working with people who commit gross human rights violations, but we can’t turn our backs and not provide training,” which “helps to prevent these problems from reemerging.”

Independent monitors of Cambodia’s political development take exception to such analysis. ““There’s almost this childlike faith that if these people are exposed to the U.S. military, it will invariably lead to a more professional military,” said Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch. “There was almost no acknowledgment about how the U.S. could be helping to consolidate the power of highly abusive actors.”

Hun Sen and his cabal are murderous, corrupt thugs: No One Disputes that. Obama Should Take a Stand for the Human and Political Rights of Cambodians

14 Nov

Hun Sen and his cabal are murderous, corrupt thugs: No One Disputes that. Obama Should Take a Stand for the Human and Political Rights of Cambodians

On the eve of the first visit ever by a U.S. president to Cambodia, this article on the American approach to the current Cambodian government is seamlessly applicable. Just change references from narcotics to human and political rights. Hun Sen and his cabal are murderous, corrupt thugs. That is not an issue of dispute. The U.S. could make a real difference in the lives of Cambodians if they simply tried. After all, Cambodia is no longer a country of significant political, economic, or geo political strategic or tactical import. If the U.S. president cannot stand up for the issue of human rights in Cambodia, where else on the planet will he? The Obama administration should do the right thing and side with those who have suffered under the horrific jackboot of oppression of the series of governments in its modern history. What possible reason is there for Obama not to simply say: “Respect the rights and lives of dignity of your people or we will object loudly. And we will not fund your system that murders and oppresses your citizens”?

THE CAMBODIAN CONUNDRUM

Cambodia represents a case study of what can happen when U.S. drug policy and U.S. foreign policy interests collide

FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

March 2002

By Nate Thayer

(This article details the way the U.S. war on drugs is actually played out in the real world, the hypocrisy between the rhetoric to hunt down and the reality of giving political protection to the powerful narcotics kingpins. U.S. policy is rarely implemented when the high level drug dealers have political protection from governments the U.S. has other wise good relations with. While billions are spent going after the small fish, making the U.S. have the highest percentage of people in prison than any other nation in the world–those in charge of narcotics trafficking are not just untouchable, but protected, and, too often,  given the red-carpet treatment by the American government)

On April 8, 1997, Theng Bunma, Cambodia’s most powerful tycoon, upset at “rude” treatment from airline personnel, marched out onto the tarmac of Cambodia’s Poechentong International Airport, pulled out a Russian K-59 automatic pistol and shot out the tires of the Royal Air Cambodge Boeing 737-400 he had just arrived in from Hong Kong.

Bunma complained that the national airline had lost his luggage and refused to adequately reimburse him: “So I said, ‘If you do not pay me that, I will shoot your airplane—for compensation.’” He added: “If they were my employees, I would have shot them in the head.”

Yet Theng Bunma is no bombastic, small-time thug: He is arguably the most powerful man in Cambodia. “In Khmer we say, ‘He makes the rain. He makes the thunder,” said a senior Cambodian official. “Everybody knows that Theng Bunma can do what he wants.”

Theng Bunma intimidates every Cambodian, from noodle vendors to the Prime Minister. As well as, the record shows, the government of the United States.

“We have reliable reporting that he (Theng Bunma) is closely and heavily involved in drug trafficking in Cambodia,” a state department spokesman, Nicholas burns, said in July 1997.

But that public admission by the United States government was years in coming, and came only after an overwhelming and embarrassing mountain of public evidence emerged through the press, forcing Washington to acknowledge the reality it had long tried to suppress: Cambodia has become a classic narco-state.

Theng Bunma is a poster child for the weakness of America’s so-called war on drugs in narco-states like Cambodia. The record shows that the United States government has gone through years of acrobatics to turn a blind eye to Theng Bunma and his benefactors in the Cambodian government.

The U.S. dilemma is simple: successive administrations have been reluctant to implement strict “zero tolerance” policy directives against governments that protect, abet, and benefit from narcotics traffickers. U.S. law requires that they “decertify” these nations as being cooperative in fighting the drug trade, thus cutting off bilateral aid and, potentially, multilateral aid to these governments. But decertification might, officials argue, derail concomitant attempts to develop otherwise good relations with governments they are trying to nurture as “emerging democracies.” So, in Cambodia, the United States has avoided the mandate on the war on drugs.

It’s not that the United States isn’t aware who Bunma is. “Theng Bunma is a well known figure widely reported to be involved in drug trafficking,” a State Department official said in December 2001. But he also noted that Cambodian “cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration remains excellent” and said the U.S. government was pleased with “the reorganization of anti-narcotics coordination” within the Cambodian government.

“Cambodia has taken a number of positive steps,” the official said, citing $460,000 that the U.S. government gave in 2001 to the United Nations Drug Control Program to help Cambodian authorities combat drug trafficking.

Still, the U.S. reluctance to recognize the impunity with which Bunma conducts his international criminal enterprises provides a colorful case study of how organized crime, narcotics trafficking and political corruption, when left unchallenged, undermine fundamental tenets of democracy.

By 1997, Bunma represented the height of political and economic legitimacy in Cambodia. He had twice been elected president of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce. His Cambodian diplomatic passport described him as “economic advisor” to the head of the ruling Cambodian People’s party. And because of his beneficence to royal charities, he held the high honorific title of “Okna,” bestowed upon him by King Sihanouk.

He is also the country’s single biggest taxpayer and landholder and owns its biggest newspaper. His Thai Boon Roong holding company owns banks, airlines, tobacco concessions, logging concessions, shipping fleets, hotels, casinos, and credit card concessions—among many other legitimate businesses.

With offices in Phnom Penh, Bangkok, and Hong Kong, his company is the single biggest corporate entity in Cambodia. Financial records put his net worth in the billions of dollars.

But that is not the source of Theng Bunma’s power. He is a narcotics trafficker. He runs a multi-billion dollar international criminal syndicate that lavishes money and gifts on Cambodia’s leaders. In turn, he is given political protection by the Cambodian government to do just about anything he wants.

Booming Business

Before the 1990’s, Cambodia was not involved in any significant narcotics activity. It was neither a producing country nor a transshipment route. But in 1991, the DEA began noticing—though not yet intercepting—shipments that left Cambodia and headed into a maze of fishing boats. The first drug shipment abroad identified as having originated in Cambodia, according to international investigators, was in 1993.

“In the last two years, we have seen a dramatic increase in Cambodia being used as a heroin smuggling point,” a senior Bangkok-based DEA official said in 1993. “Our intelligence is now picking up four to six shipments a year” of high grade refined heroin with “a minimum of 300 kilograms. The largest we have detected so far is 800 kilos.” (An interception of 300 kilos—660 pounds—of heroin would rank in the top ten drug busts from the Golden Triangle.)

Regarding Cambodian government anti-drug efforts, the DEA official scoffed:” The only thing hampering them is the weather.”

The formula is simple: Criminal syndicates involved in narcotics trafficking seek out week governments that, through the exchange of corruption money for political protection, allow them to conduct their criminal activities. Cambodia in the early 1990’s was just such a case, and organized crime descended to set up shop.

Bunma came to prominence in Cambodia in the late 1980’s. Though born in Cambodia, he carried fake passports and identity cards that identified him as a citizen of Thailand. And he had plenty of money for Cambodia’s political leadership, including both Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, political enemies who shared power in an uneasy alliance as the result of United Nations-sponsored democratic elections held in 1993.

In February 1994, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Charles Twining invited Finance Minister Sam Rainsy and another senior government official to a private luncheon at his residence. In his living room, Twining turned up the music and lowered his voice. According to Rainsy, Twining offered this warning:”Please tell Ranariddh not to get involved with Theng Bunma because we Americans have evidence that Theng Bunma is involved in drug trafficking.”

Twining, when asked to confirm the conversation, said through an embassy spokesman: “We don’t comment about confidential conversations with a host government.”

Airplanes and Limousines

The United States had reason to worry about penetration of the highest levels of the Cambodian government. Bunma’s many gifts to officials were legendary. In 1993, he paid $1.8 million for Ranariddh’s personal King Air-200 plane and gave Hun Sen the Mercedes limousines that ferried him to official functions. When the government was low on funds in 1994, Bunma underwrote the state budget with several million dollars interest-free “loans.” He paid the entire salary of the Cambodian army during their 1994 dry-season offensive against the Khmer Rouge.

According to one American narcotics official, Cambodia in 1994 was a place where criminal syndicates were “using government planes, helicopters, military trucks, navy boats and soldiers to transport heroin.”

It was also in February 1994—the same month that Twining warned the Cambodian government o distance themselves from Bunma—that the U.S. embassy did the opposite: Bunma was issued a U.S. visa so he could attend the Congressional Prayer Breakfast, with president Clinton the keynote speaker.

Bunma was accompanied by Interior Minister Sin Song, a former Khmer Rouge officer who eight months earlier has led a coup attempt. The two Cambodians were given the red-carpet treatment in Washington. They asked for and were granted a meeting with U.S. officials.

Attending the meeting at the Pentagon, were officials from the CIA, the State Department, the Department of Defense and other agencies. Sin Song, to the shock of the Americans, asked formally for U.S. support for another coup d’état. Bunma identified himself as the “financier” of the effort, according to three officials at the meeting.

In July 1994, a coup was indeed launched, but it too failed.  Sin Song was arrested. So were 33 Thai officials, connected to powerful figures within Thai military circles, who had flown in from Bangkok. Their airline tickets on Cambodian International Airlines were all booked under the credit card of Bunma’s Thai Boon Roong holding company, according to the head of the airline. While dozens were jailed, no action was taken against Bunma.

In August 1994, the opposition newspaper Voice of Khmer Youth published a front-page profile of Bunma, accusing him, among other things, of having been arrested for drug smuggling in 1972. The report said he bribed his way out of jail and fled to Thailand. Less than a week after the article appeared, men in military uniforms gunned down its editor in broad daylight on a busy Phnom Penh street. No one has ever been arrested.

A Fine Line

In March 1995, the U.S. government issued its Narcotics Control Strategy Report, in which the State Department walked a fine line regarding Bunma and Cambodia: “Involvement (in the drug trade) of some leading businessmen with access to the highest levels of government is a known concern. There are indications that some high-level businessmen who give financial support to politicians are involved in heroin smuggling.” No names were given, however.

The report, ironically, outlined the effectiveness of “public diplomacy” in the U.S. war on drugs: “It is in the drug trade’s interest to remain behind the scenes working through corrupt government officials who can maintain a façade of probity and respectability. One of the best ways of routing out drug corruption is to expose it to public scrutiny. Corruption is a threat to any nation’s security, for it allows criminal elements to undermine the legitimacy of the state from within.”

Despite these concerns, the U.S. embassy issued Bunma another visa the following month, this time to accompany the Cambodian head of state, Chea Sim, and his official delegation to Washington. Chea Sim dined with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord, held talks with National Security Council officials and met—at the personal request of Ambassador. Twining—Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., among others.

The entire Cambodian government delegation’s rooms at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington during this visit were reserved for and paid in the name of Theng Bunma, according to the hotel.

Just prior to the U.S. visit, the State Department formally, but secretly, put Bunma on the visa ban list, according to department documents, but decided to issue a de facto waiver so that Bunma, described in his diplomatic passport as an “economic advisor,” could accompany Chea Sim. “We did not want to create problems at the start of what was an important bilateral visit,” said one embassy official.

Grounds for Exclusion

Placing Bunma on the visa blacklist, according to the U.S. government document, was based on State Department provision P2C, which cites section 212 of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act: “ Controlled substance traffickers…who the consular or immigration officer knows or has reason to believe (are) or (have) been illicit traffickers…(are) excludable.” Bunma was also banned from entering the United States under another State Department provision (code “00”) covering other unspecified “derogatory information.”

“According to our records he (Bunma) does not hold a U.S. visa,” a State Department official said in December. “No determination regarding his eligibility to enter the U.S. can be made prior to his application, but we would obviously take all relevant facts into account.”

In June 1995, after Bunma and Chea Sim had left the United States, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns reiterated longstanding official U.S. policy toward nations who fail to move against drug traffickers: “Governments that reward corruption and that allow trafficker influence to penetrate the highest levels of authority will have difficult relations with the United States.” But he was referring to events in Columbia, not Cambodia, and U.S. officials continued to avoid confronting the Cambodian authorities.

In November 1995, the Far Eastern Economic Review published a cover package entitled “Cambodia: Asia’s New Narco-State?” It detailed Bunma’s involvement in drug trafficking and criminal syndicates. A few days later, Hun Sen, a primary beneficiary of Bunma’s largesse, threatened that “a million demonstrators” might take to the streets to protest foreign interference in Cambodian affairs.

“Diplomats should stay indoors,” he warned. “I cannot guarantee their safety.” The United States sent a special envoy, Kent Wiederman, to try to calm the situation. Wiederman, then deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, emerged from a private meeting with Hun Sen commending his “commitment to human rights and democracy.” The French ambassador, who had just ordered the destruction of sensitive documents because of Hun Sen’s threat, reacted to Wiederman’s praising of Hun Sen by commenting: “What planet did he arrive from?”

On January 7, 1996—at the dedication of the new “Hun Sen park” on the Mekong River, paid for by Bunma—Hun Sen announced his government would “never abandon “ Bunma, “who has helped our party.” On the VIP dais were both Bunma and U.S. charge d’affaires Robert Porter.

Our Intelligence Was Clear

Several months later, a U.S. government regional drug conference was held in Bangkok, with attendees from State, the CIA, the DEA and other agencies. The Phnom Penh embassy official who supervised narcotics issues argued with representatives from other U.S. embassies and agencies who questioned why the U.S. embassy in Cambodia was refusing to acknowledge—let alone confront—Bunma as a drug trafficker.

“Our intelligence was clear and overwhelming that Bunma was a major player,” said a U.S. government official from another embassy who attended the conference. “We couldn’t understand what the Phnom Penh embassy was doing.”

The Phnom Penh embassy cited “suspicions but no proof.” Other American officials involved in narcotics policy were outraged.

On March 1, 1997, in its required annual report to Congress on narcotics, the State Department noted that “Cambodia made significant efforts towards taking control of the drug trafficking and transit problems” in 1996.

But according to Cambodian and Interpol records, the seizure by foreign law-enforcement authorities of drugs originating in Cambodia increased by more than 1,000 percent in 1996 over 1995.

The State Department report added that promises by the Cambodian government to crack down on officials involved in narcotic trafficking or corruption: have thus far yielded no concrete indictments or results.”

Yet they again officially “waived” Cambodia from being decertified as a nation that failed to move against drug trafficking.

The FBI Investigates

Later that month, a terrorist grenade attack targeting Cambodia’s main opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, killed 19 and wounded more than 120 on a bright Sunday morning in a peaceful gathering outside the parliament building. Rainsy was long a vocal critic of Bunma and Hun Sen, publicly linking them to the narcotics trade.

Because an American citizen, and employee of the congressionally-funded International republican Institute, was wounded in the attack, the FBI sent a team to Cambodia to assist the investigation.

A state Department spokesman told me on April 14, 1997, that with regard to drug money supporting the Cambodian government, “we are actively looking into reports that corrupt elements of the military and government may be facilitating drug trafficking, but we are not in a position to comment on those reports.”

By May, the FBI’s preliminary findings had concluded that the terrorists were linked not only to Bunma but to Hun Sen himself. They informed U.S. ambassador Kenneth Quinn that their investigation pointed to some of the prime minister’s top aides, including the head of his personal bodyguards.

Further, the FBI told Quinn, the grenade throwers appeared to be part of a paramilitary unit of assassins who were on the payroll of both the government and Bunma and operated out of one of Bunma’s hotels.

The next step, the FBI said, was to interview Hun Sen and give him a polygraph test. Quinn was not pleased at the potential diplomatic ramifications. Within days, he ordered the FBI team to leave Cambodia, citing “threats” to their safety from the Khmer Rouge. The source of the threats? Hun Sen.

“There is no question our investigation was halted by the highest levels because it was leading to Hun Sen,” said one American law enforcement official directly involved.

Quinn and others in the U.S. government privately argued that Cambodia’s stability was already teetering on the brink of civil war. To continue the FBI investigation to its logical conclusion would push the country over the edge, they contended. (Quinn did not respond to my request for comment).

The departure of the FBI team from Phnom Penh, didn’t, of course, help calm things down. It further bolstered those in the Cambodian government who felt, correctly, that they were capable of intimidating the United States and could act with impunity without harmful diplomatic consequences.

Between the growing fractious deterioration within the Cambodian coalition government, the rising international scrutiny focused directly on Hun Sen from the high-profile grenade attack on Sam Rainsy, and the very public international calls for increased pressure to stem the influence of organized-crime syndicates and drug traffickers over the corrupt Cambodian government, the pressure mounted—and the government imploded.

A bloody coup d’état occurred in early July 1997. The 2.8 billion dollar U.N peacekeeping effort, which began with the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords and culminated in the 1993 elections, was now formally a failure. Civil war had returned. The winners of the election—Ranariddh and his supporters—were ousted from power and in exile; the losers—backers of Hun Sen—had full control. The Khmer Rouge, now allied with the ousted government leaders, was fighting from the jungle. And parliament, the press, opposition politics, a coalition government, and other tenets of the “emerging fragile democracy” had collapsed.

Perhaps no one was happier than Theng Bunma. In an interview shortly after the coup, he boasted of having given millions of dollars in cash and gold to Hun Sen to finance it. “For the clash of 6 July 1997, I called Mr. Hun Sen and I talked to him. I gave him one million dollars to do whatever the control the situation,” said Bunma. “He asked me whether I had the money in Cambodia….I said I would send one hundred kilograms of gold in a plane to Cambodia.”

“I say what Hun Sen did was correct,” Bunma said. “Why? One reason. Take the example of my hotel.” Hun Sen “put three tanks and soldiers around to protect it.”

No Formal Linkage

A few days after this interview appeared in the Washington Post, the U.S. government publicly stated, for the first time, that Theng Bunma was a drug trafficker. But State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns hastened to add that the United States “does not have evidence that links Hun Sen himself, personally, to these accusations of drug trafficking.”

“We think the Cambodian government can do a lot more to purge itself of obvious corruption in the government, of obvious linkages between…members of the government and narco-traffickers,” Burns said.

Burns careful separation of Bunma from Hun Sen was no coincidence. It allowed the State Department to avoid the conclusion that the Cambodian government itself was involved in drug trafficking. Such a conclusion would require the United States to decertify Cambodia, with all its implications—including cutting off bilateral aid and voting against loans from the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other multilateral aid. That would have been the death knell for a government that derived almost half its budget in 1996 from such sources.

It was the same reason the U.S. government refused to label the “events” of July a coup d’état. That also would require a cessation of aid to Hun Sen’s government.

In June 1998, the Thais issued an arrest warrant for Bunma, who was charged with fraud for allegedly providing false information to obtain a Thai identity card and passport under two different names. In 1999, criminal charges were brought against Bunma in Hong Kong for falsifying immigration documents. Later the prosecution dropped all charges after the Cambodian Foreign Minister, Hor Nam Hong, presented a diplomatic note citing Bunma’s “top honors and ranks” to the Hong Kong court. “Mr. Theng Bunma has claimed diplomatic immunity through his lawyers. The Royal Government of Cambodia has claimed diplomatic immunity on his behalf,” the court said, “The administration has carefully considered the claims and has concluded that Mr. Theng is entitled to immunity from criminal jurisdiction. In those circumstances, the prosecution has decided to drop the charges,” said the Hong Kong government spokesman

And while the Thai arrest warrants remain open, Bunma’s connections in powerful circles in Thailand have prevented any movement to touch him.

On June 18, 2000, Bunma’s daughter was married to a Thai army officer in a lavish ceremony in Phnom Penh. It was hardly a quiet affair.

The Thai military’s Supreme Commander, Gen. Mongol Ampornpisit, chartered a military plane from Bangkok full of top army officers. Hun Sen’s wife was guest of honor and a witness to the engagement ceremony. Cambodia’s defense Minister Gen. Tea Banh, served as the bride-to-be’s sponsor. The Interior Minister, Sar Kheng, also attended. The Bangkok Post reported that “diamond jewelry and stacks of cash” were presented to the bride and groom.

A “Transit Route”

After the coup of 1997, under pressure from Congress, the United States suspended most of its bilateral aid to Cambodia. According to the State Department’s Narcotics Control Strategy Report released in March 2001, “U.S.-Cambodia bilateral narcotics cooperation is hampered by restrictions on official assistance to the central government that have remained in place since the political disturbances of 1997” and “remained suspended in 2000.”

“Cambodia’s principal involvement in the international narcotics trade is as a transit route for Southeast Asian heroin to overseas markets, including…the United States,” the report says.

The report cites Cambodia’s National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) as “playing a central role, provid(ing) more effective measures” and said the NACD had the potential “to become an effective policy and coordination tool for the government.”

The same report also noted that in 2000 the deputy police commissioner had alleged that four senior Cambodian government officials—including the former and current heads of the NACD and a deputy commander-in-chief of the Cambodian military—had accepted bribed from narcotics traffickers.

Nevertheless, a few months later, President Bush removed Cambodia from the list of “major Drug-Producing or Transit Countries.” According to the White House,” The only change in the list from the previous year is the removal of Cambodia.”

“I have removed Cambodia from the major’s list,” said President Bush in a prepared statement dated November 1, 2001. “Cambodia was added to the Majors List in 1996 as a transit country for heroin destined for the United States. In recent years, there has been no evidence of any heroin transiting Cambodia coming to the United States.”

Could it be that no one really wants to look for evidence?

 

THE CAMBODIAN CONUNDRUM

15 Mar

THE CAMBODIAN CONUNDRUM

Cambodia represents a case study of what can happen when U.S. drug policy and U.S. foreign policy interests collide

FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

March 2002

By Nate Thayer

(This article details the way the U.S. war on drugs is actually played out in the real world, the hypocrisy between the rhetoric to hunt down and the reality of giving political protection to the powerful narcotics kingpins. U.S. policy is rarely implemented when the high level drug dealers have political protection from governments the U.S. has other wise good relations with. While billions are spent going after the small fish, making the U.S. have the highest percentage of people in prison than any other nation in the world–those in charge of narcotics trafficking are not just untouchable, but protected, and, too often,  given the red-carpet treatment by the American government)

On April 8, 1997, Theng Bunma, Cambodia’s most powerful tycoon, upset at “rude” treatment from airline personnel, marched out onto the tarmac of Cambodia’s Poechentong International Airport, pulled out a Russian K-59 automatic pistol and shot out the tires of the Royal Air Cambodge Boeing 737-400 he had just arrived in from Hong Kong.

Bunma complained that the national airline had lost his luggage and refused to adequately reimburse him: “So I said, ‘If you do not pay me that, I will shoot your airplane—for compensation.’” He added: “If they were my employees, I would have shot them in the head.”

Yet Theng Bunma is no bombastic, small-time thug: He is arguably the most powerful man in Cambodia. “In Khmer we say, ‘He makes the rain. He makes the thunder,” said a senior Cambodian official. “Everybody knows that Theng Bunma can do what he wants.”

Theng Bunma intimidates every Cambodian, from noodle vendors to the Prime Minister. As well as, the record shows, the government of the United States.

“We have reliable reporting that he (Theng Bunma) is closely and heavily involved in drug trafficking in Cambodia,” a state department spokesman, Nicholas burns, said in July 1997.

But that public admission by the United States government was years in coming, and came only after an overwhelming and embarrassing mountain of public evidence emerged through the press, forcing Washington to acknowledge the reality it had long tried to suppress: Cambodia has become a classic narco-state.

Theng Bunma is a poster child for the weakness of America’s so-called war on drugs in narco-states like Cambodia. The record shows that the United States government has gone through years of acrobatics to turn a blind eye to Theng Bunma and his benefactors in the Cambodian government.

The U.S. dilemma is simple: successive administrations have been reluctant to implement strict “zero tolerance” policy directives against governments that protect, abet, and benefit from narcotics traffickers. U.S. law requires that they “decertify” these nations as being cooperative in fighting the drug trade, thus cutting off bilateral aid and, potentially, multilateral aid to these governments. But decertification might, officials argue, derail concomitant attempts to develop otherwise good relations with governments they are trying to nurture as “emerging democracies.” So, in Cambodia, the United States has avoided the mandate on the war on drugs.

It’s not that the United States isn’t aware who Bunma is. “Theng Bunma is a well known figure widely reported to be involved in drug trafficking,” a State Department official said in December 2001. But he also noted that Cambodian “cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration remains excellent” and said the U.S. government was pleased with “the reorganization of anti-narcotics coordination” within the Cambodian government.

“Cambodia has taken a number of positive steps,” the official said, citing $460,000 that the U.S. government gave in 2001 to the United Nations Drug Control Program to help Cambodian authorities combat drug trafficking.

Still, the U.S. reluctance to recognize the impunity with which Bunma conducts his international criminal enterprises provides a colorful case study of how organized crime, narcotics trafficking and political corruption, when left unchallenged, undermine fundamental tenets of democracy.

By 1997, Bunma represented the height of political and economic legitimacy in Cambodia. He had twice been elected president of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce. His Cambodian diplomatic passport described him as “economic advisor” to the head of the ruling Cambodian People’s party. And because of his beneficence to royal charities, he held the high honorific title of “Okna,” bestowed upon him by King Sihanouk.

He is also the country’s single biggest taxpayer and landholder and owns its biggest newspaper. His Thai Boon Roong holding company owns banks, airlines, tobacco concessions, logging concessions, shipping fleets, hotels, casinos, and credit card concessions—among many other legitimate businesses.

With offices in Phnom Penh, Bangkok, and Hong Kong, his company is the single biggest corporate entity in Cambodia. Financial records put his net worth in the billions of dollars.

But that is not the source of Theng Bunma’s power. He is a narcotics trafficker. He runs a multi-billion dollar international criminal syndicate that lavishes money and gifts on Cambodia’s leaders. In turn, he is given political protection by the Cambodian government to do just about anything he wants.

Booming Business

Before the 1990’s, Cambodia was not involved in any significant narcotics activity. It was neither a producing country nor a transshipment route. But in 1991, the DEA began noticing—though not yet intercepting—shipments that left Cambodia and headed into a maze of fishing boats. The first drug shipment abroad identified as having originated in Cambodia, according to international investigators, was in 1993.

“In the last two years, we have seen a dramatic increase in Cambodia being used as a heroin smuggling point,” a senior Bangkok-based DEA official said in 1993. “Our intelligence is now picking up four to six shipments a year” of high grade refined heroin with “a minimum of 300 kilograms. The largest we have detected so far is 800 kilos.” (An interception of 300 kilos—660 pounds—of heroin would rank in the top ten drug busts from the Golden Triangle.)

Regarding Cambodian government anti-drug efforts, the DEA official scoffed:” The only thing hampering them is the weather.”

The formula is simple: Criminal syndicates involved in narcotics trafficking seek out week governments that, through the exchange of corruption money for political protection, allow them to conduct their criminal activities. Cambodia in the early 1990’s was just such a case, and organized crime descended to set up shop.

Bunma came to prominence in Cambodia in the late 1980’s. Though born in Cambodia, he carried fake passports and identity cards that identified him as a citizen of Thailand. And he had plenty of money for Cambodia’s political leadership, including both Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, political enemies who shared power in an uneasy alliance as the result of United Nations-sponsored democratic elections held in 1993.

In February 1994, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Charles Twining invited Finance Minister Sam Rainsy and another senior government official to a private luncheon at his residence. In his living room, Twining turned up the music and lowered his voice. According to Rainsy, Twining offered this warning:”Please tell Ranariddh not to get involved with Theng Bunma because we Americans have evidence that Theng Bunma is involved in drug trafficking.”

Twining, when asked to confirm the conversation, said through an embassy spokesman: “We don’t comment about confidential conversations with a host government.”

Airplanes and Limousines

The United States had reason to worry about penetration of the highest levels of the Cambodian government. Bunma’s many gifts to officials were legendary. In 1993, he paid $1.8 million for Ranariddh’s personal King Air-200 plane and gave Hun Sen the Mercedes limousines that ferried him to official functions. When the government was low on funds in 1994, Bunma underwrote the state budget with several million dollars interest-free “loans.” He paid the entire salary of the Cambodian army during their 1994 dry-season offensive against the Khmer Rouge.

According to one American narcotics official, Cambodia in 1994 was a place where criminal syndicates were “using government planes, helicopters, military trucks, navy boats and soldiers to transport heroin.”

It was also in February 1994—the same month that Twining warned the Cambodian government o distance themselves from Bunma—that the U.S. embassy did the opposite: Bunma was issued a U.S. visa so he could attend the Congressional Prayer Breakfast, with president Clinton the keynote speaker.

Bunma was accompanied by Interior Minister Sin Song, a former Khmer Rouge officer who eight months earlier has led a coup attempt. The two Cambodians were given the red-carpet treatment in Washington. They asked for and were granted a meeting with U.S. officials.

Attending the meeting at the Pentagon, were officials from the CIA, the State Department, the Department of Defense and other agencies. Sin Song, to the shock of the Americans, asked formally for U.S. support for another coup d’état. Bunma identified himself as the “financier” of the effort, according to three officials at the meeting.

In July 1994, a coup was indeed launched, but it too failed.  Sin Song was arrested. So were 33 Thai officials, connected to powerful figures within Thai military circles, who had flown in from Bangkok. Their airline tickets on Cambodian International Airlines were all booked under the credit card of Bunma’s Thai Boon Roong holding company, according to the head of the airline. While dozens were jailed, no action was taken against Bunma.

In August 1994, the opposition newspaper Voice of Khmer Youth published a front-page profile of Bunma, accusing him, among other things, of having been arrested for drug smuggling in 1972. The report said he bribed his way out of jail and fled to Thailand. Less than a week after the article appeared, men in military uniforms gunned down its editor in broad daylight on a busy Phnom Penh street. No one has ever been arrested.

A Fine Line

In March 1995, the U.S. government issued its Narcotics Control Strategy Report, in which the State Department walked a fine line regarding Bunma and Cambodia: “Involvement (in the drug trade) of some leading businessmen with access to the highest levels of government is a known concern. There are indications that some high-level businessmen who give financial support to politicians are involved in heroin smuggling.” No names were given, however.

The report, ironically, outlined the effectiveness of “public diplomacy” in the U.S. war on drugs: “It is in the drug trade’s interest to remain behind the scenes working through corrupt government officials who can maintain a façade of probity and respectability. One of the best ways of routing out drug corruption is to expose it to public scrutiny. Corruption is a threat to any nation’s security, for it allows criminal elements to undermine the legitimacy of the state from within.”

Despite these concerns, the U.S. embassy issued Bunma another visa the following month, this time to accompany the Cambodian head of state, Chea Sim, and his official delegation to Washington. Chea Sim dined with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord, held talks with National Security Council officials and met—at the personal request of Ambassador. Twining—Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., among others.

The entire Cambodian government delegation’s rooms at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington during this visit were reserved for and paid in the name of Theng Bunma, according to the hotel.

Just prior to the U.S. visit, the State Department formally, but secretly, put Bunma on the visa ban list, according to department documents, but decided to issue a de facto waiver so that Bunma, described in his diplomatic passport as an “economic advisor,” could accompany Chea Sim. “We did not want to create problems at the start of what was an important bilateral visit,” said one embassy official.

Grounds for Exclusion

Placing Bunma on the visa blacklist, according to the U.S. government document, was based on State Department provision P2C, which cites section 212 of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act: “ Controlled substance traffickers…who the consular or immigration officer knows or has reason to believe (are) or (have) been illicit traffickers…(are) excludable.” Bunma was also banned from entering the United States under another State Department provision (code “00”) covering other unspecified “derogatory information.”

“According to our records he (Bunma) does not hold a U.S. visa,” a State Department official said in December. “No determination regarding his eligibility to enter the U.S. can be made prior to his application, but we would obviously take all relevant facts into account.”

In June 1995, after Bunma and Chea Sim had left the United States, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns reiterated longstanding official U.S. policy toward nations who fail to move against drug traffickers: “Governments that reward corruption and that allow trafficker influence to penetrate the highest levels of authority will have difficult relations with the United States.” But he was referring to events in Columbia, not Cambodia, and U.S. officials continued to avoid confronting the Cambodian authorities.

In November 1995, the Far Eastern Economic Review published a cover package entitled “Cambodia: Asia’s New Narco-State?” It detailed Bunma’s involvement in drug trafficking and criminal syndicates. A few days later, Hun Sen, a primary beneficiary of Bunma’s largesse, threatened that “a million demonstrators” might take to the streets to protest foreign interference in Cambodian affairs.

“Diplomats should stay indoors,” he warned. “I cannot guarantee their safety.” The United States sent a special envoy, Kent Wiederman, to try to calm the situation. Wiederman, then deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, emerged from a private meeting with Hun Sen commending his “commitment to human rights and democracy.” The French ambassador, who had just ordered the destruction of sensitive documents because of Hun Sen’s threat, reacted to Wiederman’s praising of Hun Sen by commenting: “What planet did he arrive from?”

On January 7, 1996—at the dedication of the new “Hun Sen park” on the Mekong River, paid for by Bunma—Hun Sen announced his government would “never abandon “ Bunma, “who has helped our party.” On the VIP dais were both Bunma and U.S. charge d’affaires Robert Porter.

Our Intelligence Was Clear

Several months later, a U.S. government regional drug conference was held in Bangkok, with attendees from State, the CIA, the DEA and other agencies. The Phnom Penh embassy official who supervised narcotics issues argued with representatives from other U.S. embassies and agencies who questioned why the U.S. embassy in Cambodia was refusing to acknowledge—let alone confront—Bunma as a drug trafficker.

“Our intelligence was clear and overwhelming that Bunma was a major player,” said a U.S. government official from another embassy who attended the conference. “We couldn’t understand what the Phnom Penh embassy was doing.”

The Phnom Penh embassy cited “suspicions but no proof.” Other American officials involved in narcotics policy were outraged.

On March 1, 1997, in its required annual report to Congress on narcotics, the State Department noted that “Cambodia made significant efforts towards taking control of the drug trafficking and transit problems” in 1996.

But according to Cambodian and Interpol records, the seizure by foreign law-enforcement authorities of drugs originating in Cambodia increased by more than 1,000 percent in 1996 over 1995.

The State Department report added that promises by the Cambodian government to crack down on officials involved in narcotic trafficking or corruption: have thus far yielded no concrete indictments or results.”

Yet they again officially “waived” Cambodia from being decertified as a nation that failed to move against drug trafficking.

The FBI Investigates

Later that month, a terrorist grenade attack targeting Cambodia’s main opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, killed 19 and wounded more than 120 on a bright Sunday morning in a peaceful gathering outside the parliament building. Rainsy was long a vocal critic of Bunma and Hun Sen, publicly linking them to the narcotics trade.

Because an American citizen, and employee of the congressionally-funded International republican Institute, was wounded in the attack, the FBI sent a team to Cambodia to assist the investigation.

A state Department spokesman told me on April 14, 1997, that with regard to drug money supporting the Cambodian government, “we are actively looking into reports that corrupt elements of the military and government may be facilitating drug trafficking, but we are not in a position to comment on those reports.”

By May, the FBI’s preliminary findings had concluded that the terrorists were linked not only to Bunma but to Hun Sen himself. They informed U.S. ambassador Kenneth Quinn that their investigation pointed to some of the prime minister’s top aides, including the head of his personal bodyguards.

Further, the FBI told Quinn, the grenade throwers appeared to be part of a paramilitary unit of assassins who were on the payroll of both the government and Bunma and operated out of one of Bunma’s hotels.

The next step, the FBI said, was to interview Hun Sen and give him a polygraph test. Quinn was not pleased at the potential diplomatic ramifications. Within days, he ordered the FBI team to leave Cambodia, citing “threats” to their safety from the Khmer Rouge. The source of the threats? Hun Sen.

“There is no question our investigation was halted by the highest levels because it was leading to Hun Sen,” said one American law enforcement official directly involved.

Quinn and others in the U.S. government privately argued that Cambodia’s stability was already teetering on the brink of civil war. To continue the FBI investigation to its logical conclusion would push the country over the edge, they contended. (Quinn did not respond to my request for comment).

The departure of the FBI team from Phnom Penh, didn’t, of course, help calm things down. It further bolstered those in the Cambodian government who felt, correctly, that they were capable of intimidating the United States and could act with impunity without harmful diplomatic consequences.

Between the growing fractious deterioration within the Cambodian coalition government, the rising international scrutiny focused directly on Hun Sen from the high-profile grenade attack on Sam Rainsy, and the very public international calls for increased pressure to stem the influence of organized-crime syndicates and drug traffickers over the corrupt Cambodian government, the pressure mounted—and the government imploded.

A bloody coup d’état occurred in early July 1997. The 2.8 billion dollar U.N peacekeeping effort, which began with the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords and culminated in the 1993 elections, was now formally a failure. Civil war had returned. The winners of the election—Ranariddh and his supporters—were ousted from power and in exile; the losers—backers of Hun Sen—had full control. The Khmer Rouge, now allied with the ousted government leaders, was fighting from the jungle. And parliament, the press, opposition politics, a coalition government, and other tenets of the “emerging fragile democracy” had collapsed.

Perhaps no one was happier than Theng Bunma. In an interview shortly after the coup, he boasted of having given millions of dollars in cash and gold to Hun Sen to finance it. “For the clash of 6 July 1997, I called Mr. Hun Sen and I talked to him. I gave him one million dollars to do whatever the control the situation,” said Bunma. “He asked me whether I had the money in Cambodia….I said I would send one hundred kilograms of gold in a plane to Cambodia.”

“I say what Hun Sen did was correct,” Bunma said. “Why? One reason. Take the example of my hotel.” Hun Sen “put three tanks and soldiers around to protect it.”

No Formal Linkage

A few days after this interview appeared in the Washington Post, the U.S. government publicly stated, for the first time, that Theng Bunma was a drug trafficker. But State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns hastened to add that the United States “does not have evidence that links Hun Sen himself, personally, to these accusations of drug trafficking.”

“We think the Cambodian government can do a lot more to purge itself of obvious corruption in the government, of obvious linkages between…members of the government and narco-traffickers,” Burns said.

Burns careful separation of Bunma from Hun Sen was no coincidence. It allowed the State Department to avoid the conclusion that the Cambodian government itself was involved in drug trafficking. Such a conclusion would require the United States to decertify Cambodia, with all its implications—including cutting off bilateral aid and voting against loans from the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other multilateral aid. That would have been the death knell for a government that derived almost half its budget in 1996 from such sources.

It was the same reason the U.S. government refused to label the “events” of July a coup d’état. That also would require a cessation of aid to Hun Sen’s government.

In June 1998, the Thais issued an arrest warrant for Bunma, who was charged with fraud for allegedly providing false information to obtain a Thai identity card and passport under two different names. In 1999, criminal charges were brought against Bunma in Hong Kong for falsifying immigration documents. Later the prosecution dropped all charges after the Cambodian Foreign Minister, Hor Nam Hong, presented a diplomatic note citing Bunma’s “top honors and ranks” to the Hong Kong court. “Mr. Theng Bunma has claimed diplomatic immunity through his lawyers. The Royal Government of Cambodia has claimed diplomatic immunity on his behalf,” the court said, “The administration has carefully considered the claims and has concluded that Mr. Theng is entitled to immunity from criminal jurisdiction. In those circumstances, the prosecution has decided to drop the charges,” said the Hong Kong government spokesman

And while the Thai arrest warrants remain open, Bunma’s connections in powerful circles in Thailand have prevented any movement to touch him.

On June 18, 2000, Bunma’s daughter was married to a Thai army officer in a lavish ceremony in Phnom Penh. It was hardly a quiet affair.

The Thai military’s Supreme Commander, Gen. Mongol Ampornpisit, chartered a military plane from Bangkok full of top army officers. Hun Sen’s wife was guest of honor and a witness to the engagement ceremony. Cambodia’s defense Minister Gen. Tea Banh, served as the bride-to-be’s sponsor. The Interior Minister, Sar Kheng, also attended. The Bangkok Post reported that “diamond jewelry and stacks of cash” were presented to the bride and groom.

A “Transit Route”

After the coup of 1997, under pressure from Congress, the United States suspended most of its bilateral aid to Cambodia. According to the State Department’s Narcotics Control Strategy Report released in March 2001, “U.S.-Cambodia bilateral narcotics cooperation is hampered by restrictions on official assistance to the central government that have remained in place since the political disturbances of 1997” and “remained suspended in 2000.”

“Cambodia’s principal involvement in the international narcotics trade is as a transit route for Southeast Asian heroin to overseas markets, including…the United States,” the report says.

The report cites Cambodia’s National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) as “playing a central role, provid(ing) more effective measures” and said the NACD had the potential “to become an effective policy and coordination tool for the government.”

The same report also noted that in 2000 the deputy police commissioner had alleged that four senior Cambodian government officials—including the former and current heads of the NACD and a deputy commander-in-chief of the Cambodian military—had accepted bribed from narcotics traffickers.

Nevertheless, a few months later, President Bush removed Cambodia from the list of “major Drug-Producing or Transit Countries.” According to the White House,” The only change in the list from the previous year is the removal of Cambodia.”

“I have removed Cambodia from the major’s list,” said President Bush in a prepared statement dated November 1, 2001. “Cambodia was added to the Majors List in 1996 as a transit country for heroin destined for the United States. In recent years, there has been no evidence of any heroin transiting Cambodia coming to the United States.”

Could it be that no one really wants to look for evidence?

%d bloggers like this: