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Boom in casino and real estate sectors down to laundering: Experts

Chhut Bunthoeun / Khmer Times Share:
The Jin Bei Casino in Sihanoukville. KT/Mai Vireak

Experts are concerned booming business in Cambodia’s casino and real estate industries is largely the result of money-laundering.

Emmanuel Guelas, director of Assurance at Ernst & Young Cambodia, said rapid growth in the businesses make it possible to commit the crime.

“With the development of the casino business, people may consider them as a channel to clean unlawfully gained funds,” said Mr Guelas, who said it was possible to gamble small amounts but claim big losses.

Mr Guelas was talking at a workshop called Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorism, held yesterday at Phnom Penh Hotel.

He said the government should consider sanctioning casinos involved in the business and ask them to report unusual transactions.

Mr Guelas offered advice on how to report money laundering activities: filling a suspicious activity report, reporting suspicions to a law enforcement officer and reporting matters of concern to financial institutions.

He said the money laundering cycle enables assets derived from illegal or criminal activities to be brought back into the economy as if unconnected with anything done against the law.

According to figures from the Ministry of Economy reported in June, the number of casino licences issued by the government had risen to 163, adding that 91 of them are located in Preah Sihanouk province.

Dr Ngy Tayi, chairman of the National Accounting Council at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said that advancing technology was threatening the global financial system because of the flow of illegal currency moving into the financial system.

“Generally speaking, money laundering and terrorist financing causes panic [among the authorities] and has affected social and economic stability,” he said. “Governments around the globe need to pay close attention and crack down in a more timely manner on financial crime.”

In Cambodia, according to Mr Ngy there is too much illegal cash floating around, causing a boom in the real estate sector and a huge increase in gambling in the casino industry.

In March, the Central Bank launched a legal framework for international cooperation to combat such financial crime, using tactics such as The National Strategy for Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) to detect it.

According to the Central Bank, the strategy aims to serve as a comprehensive, long-term roadmap for the government, helping ministries, institutions, and agencies to better understand their respective roles and responsibilities in combating AML/CFT.

Clive Scott, International Monetary Fund Asia-Pacific adviser on AML/CFT, said the strategy is a major development in Cambodia’s fight to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

“It will help minimise threats from money laundering and terrorism financing but we have more work to do to prevent these activities from happening in Cambodia,” he added.

In February, the global money-laundering watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FAFT) placed the Kingdom on a list of countries described as “highly vulnerable to money laundering”.

Cambodia has made minimal use of financial intelligence in investigating money laundering and terrorism financing, the report recorded.

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