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More than 70 money laundering cases uncovered since global watchdog’s grey listing

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
More than $2 million from Hong Kong found in suitcase at Phnom Penh International Airport. Fresh News

After global money-laundering watchdog Financial Action Task Force placed the Kingdom on its grey list last year, the Interior Ministry has cracked down on 75 cases, seized about $8 million and confiscated nearly 3,000 vehicles.


In February last year, FATF placed the Kingdom on a list of countries “highly vulnerable to money laundering” following reports showing its judicial system had high levels of corruption and it lacked the will to investigate financial crimes.

The Kingdom’s judicial system had “high levels of corruption”, FATF said in the report, adding: “Cambodia has made minimal use of financial intelligence in investigating money laundering and terrorism financing.”

Following the report, Cambodian authorities ratcheted up their war against the crime, catching dozens of suspects at international airports and border crossing in the country.

In a recent interview, Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak said the government and ministry are working hard to fight against money-laundering crimes in the Kingdom.

According to an Interior Ministry report obtained by Khmer Times, a total of 75 cases of money-laundering was dealt with by joint authorities, especially the Cambodian Financial Intelligence Unit.

“We have conducted investigations on 75 cases of money-laundering crimes, of which 15 were sent to the courts,” the report said.

It noted in 10 of the 15 cases, offenders were charged by prosecutors under the Law on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism.

The report said the authorities also seized a total $7,786,179 and about $24,000 in riel from suspects, three houses, a plot of land and 2,725 vehicles.

Gen Sopheak said at least three major cases of money laundering were cracked down on by the authorities since February last year.

He said the major cases involved Chinese nationals who brought the money to Cambodia via Hong Kong.

In April last year, the National Police arrested three Chinese nationals at Phnom Penh International Airport after they attempted to bring in more than $3.5 million from Hong Kong into the Kingdom without declaration.

They were charged with money laundering under Articles 3 and 29 of Law on Anti-money Laundering and Combatting the Financing of Terrorism. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison.

In May last year, authorities arrested another Chinese national at Phnom Penh International Airport suspected of illegally importing nearly $1million into from Hong Kong.

In July, Siem Reap authorities detained two South Koreans for bringing in $2.2 million through the airport. They also travelled from Hong Kong.

“Up to now, we have confiscated millions of dollars, and all of the seized money is being kept at the National Bank of Cambodia,” Gen Sopheak said. “Most of the suspects are Chinese, who attempted to use the money gambling in casinos.”

He said the authorities have not seen any major cases of money-laundering in the Kingdom so far this year, but the government is strictly implementing the law to crack down on suspects.

In 2018, Basel Anti-Money Laundering Index, an independent annual ranking that assesses the risk of money laundering and terrorism financing in the world, also rated Cambodia as one of the highest risk countries.

San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said yesterday he appreciates the government’s effort to fight against money laundering.

However, he said the government is not doing enough to handle the problem. When FAFT placed Cambodia on its grey list, it meant the Kingdom is perceived as an easy place to wash cash.

“The dirty money is not only transported through international airports but also via road and waterways,” Mr Chey said, adding black money was also detected flowing through banks.

He said corruption is also disrupting efforts to fight money laundering in the Kingdom.

“I think the stronger action to fight against money laundering should not have come only after Cambodia was put on the grey list,” Mr Chey said. “The government needs to have long-term enforcement against the crime.”


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