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US sanctions tycoon, senior Cambodian official, family, barring them from entry

Kun Kim, former chief of joint staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and currently first vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management. Supplied

The United States has sanctioned a senior government official, his family members and a tycoon with close links to Prime Minister Hun Sen over alleged corruption, barring them from entering the U.S.

Kun Kim, former chief of joint staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and currently first vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, was sanctioned over alleged involvement in corruption, the U.S. Treasury Department said on Monday.

“Kim was a senior General in the RCAF and was instrumental in a development in Koh Kong province and had reaped significant financial benefit from his relationships with a People’s Republic of China (PRC) state-owned entity,” the department said.

“Kim used RCAF soldiers to intimidate, demolish, and clear-out land sought by the PRC-owned entity. Kun Kim was replaced as RCAF Chief of Staff because Kim had not shared profits from his unlawful businesses with senior Cambodian government officials,” it claimed.

Three members of Kim’s family — wife King Chandy and children Kim Sophary and Kim Phara — as well as five entities that are owned or controlled by them were also sanctioned, the department said.

Kim and his family members are barred from entering the United States.

“Section 7031(c) provides that, in cases where the Secretary of State has credible information that officials of foreign governments have been involved in significant corruption, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States,” the State Department said in the Monday statement.

The Treasury Department also sanctioned tycoon Try Pheap for allegedly overseeing a large-scale illegal-logging consortium with the collusion of Cambodian officials.

“For example, Pheap used the Cambodian military to enable his timber trafficking activities and sell to buyers in Vietnam, China, Europe, and Russia. The support of these officials makes it difficult for local authorities to take lawful action against Pheap,” the department said.

Kim and Pheap could not be reached for comment. A representative of the Try Pheap Group declined to comment.

Kim’s son Kim Rithy, who is a deputy Kandal provincial governor, dismissed the sanctions against his family as “groundless and politically motivated.”

“American Treasury Department Report is groundless and politically motivated to defame Cambodian Officials,” Rithy wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

“My siblings conduct honest and legitimate businesses [in] full complian[ce with] Cambodian laws. Our family holds utmost respect to our beloved nation and our fellow citizens,” Rithy added.

Rithy said his father had dedicated his entire career to finding peace for Cambodia, promoting democracy and building human capital and strong institutions that respect human rights and the rule of law.

Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that it felt “strong dismay” over the sanctions.

“It is very disturbing when public figures of a country have become subjects of punitive measures of another country based on groundless accounts and accusations in total disregard of the legal and judicial independence of the country,” the ministry said.

The ministry said the sanctions were “serious violations” of international principles of noninterference and defended Kim and Pheap as individuals who contributed to peace-building and socioeconomic development.

Activist Heng Sros, from the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, said Pheap’s illegal-logging allegations were long-standing and well-known among environmentalists.

“Okhna Try Pheap is among the biggest log smugglers in Cambodia,” Sros said. “Even after he announced that he had stopped smuggling logs, he continued to do it.”

Previously, the U.S. sanctioned General Hing Bun Heang, commander of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, for his alleged involvement in human rights abuses.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the Monday statement that the new U.S. sanctions — which also applied to targets in Europe and Latin America — coincided with International Anti-Corruption Day.

“Corruption deprives people of their countries’ resources, basic essential services, and economic opportunities, while it enriches a select few and facilitates environmental destruction, political instability, and conflict,” he said.

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