Border control is an urgent issue for Cambodia as it potentially causes political instability and public protests. Money laundering and the inflow of toxic waste are cases in point.
Since February this year, an astonishing seven million dollars in cash illegally made it into the country, by flights from the same country of origin, Hong Kong. It involved four cases, three in Phnom Penh International airport and one in Siem Reap International airport.
Was the police success sheer luck? Were they tipped off? How many times had these mules gotten away with illicit money without being tracked? Why all from Hong Kong? Are triads in play in Hong Kong and in Cambodia?
Out of the four cases, three cases involved Chinese nationals and another case involved South Koreans. How many other nationalities were involved and had gotten through undetected?
Was the discovery and arrest part of a wider sting operation with cooperation from other law enforcement agencies around the world or is this a by chance discovery?
The questions can be endless but the silence from the authorities and the shoddy release of information is deafening as no concerted efforts have been realized, unless they are withholding information in order not to compromise investigations and tracking as well as counter intelligence measures related to national security as well as the security of the financial system.
Last year, Basel Anti-Money Laundering Index, an independent annual ranking that assesses the risk of money laundering and terrorism financing in the world, rated Cambodia as one of the highest risk countries.
In 2016, the Kingdom’s first National Risk Assessment report acknowledged factors that might have enabled money-laundering activities, including Cambodia’s largely cash-based dollarized economy and widespread use of informal financial services, booming real estate sector and large casino gambling sector.
Money laundering is indeed a serious issue. Relatively weak financial regulation and governance make Cambodia vulnerable to this transnational financial crime.
According to safeinternetbanking website’s description, money mules are people who serve as intermediaries for criminals and criminal organisations. Whether they are aware of it, they transport fraudulently gained money to fraudsters. The use of intermediaries makes it difficult to figure out the identity of the fraudster.
With talks about threats to national security and stability, the sudden influx of illicit money must be effectively controlled. To make things worse, the illicit money can be used to destablise the country especially amidst deranged politicians are calling on the security forces to move for regime change.
Looking at Sihanoukville where the authorities have conceded that the containers containing Canadian and American stink, had landed on Cambodian soil since October last year but were miraculously discovered days after the Prime Minister issued a harsh warning against the import of such waste.
Fumbling to pin the blame on foreign nationals seemed convenient but this imports are now said to involve local businessmen with sinister or rather unethical business practices. Yes, Cambodia probably does have an antiquated law which allows import of wastes for recycling into energy.
However, one would have thought that after the 1998 fiasco, the customs, port officials and other competent authorities would have learned their lessons and be more vigilant.
The fact that the discovery was made on a Tuesday, when the containers had landed in October last year and the Prime Minister’s stern warning went out the preceding Friday before the bust, reveals something equally stinky as the garbage itself.
One must be naïve to think that it was a mere coincidence for such a discovery. Linking it up with the admission by the government that that the containers could probably have slipped through because of a lack of container scanners, without stating the obvious, wreaks of incompetency, corruption, collusion and criminal.
Could other contraband been smuggled in legally because the port did not have sufficient scanners? Contraband such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs and yes, hard cash? The reality to these questions are bound to elicit many reactions but the facts prevail.
Millions in cash were brought in and by sheer luck, let us put it down to luck, tip offs and a vigilant eye and not one or two but 83 containers were brought in since October last year without being detected in the case of the latter.
No insinuations are being made here. Only presumptions and assumptions. There must be some corrupt and greedy officials behind these lapses. The Cambodian authorities in charge must be held accountable and the institutional capacity and integrity must be enhanced.