Over a thousand tonnes of plastic waste found recently imported into Cambodia’s port city of Sihanoukville were brought into the country without the knowledge of Cambodian authorities, a senior customs official said on Monday.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Kun Nhim—Director General of Cambodia’s Customs and Excise General Directorate—said that no one under his command had approved the movement of the banned waste material into Cambodia.
“No official authorized its importation,” Kun Nhim said, rejecting environmental activists’ suspicions that Cambodian authorities were complicit in the illegal act.
“Its transport was arranged by the sellers and the purchasers. The owners falsified their declaration of the items in the bill of lading,” Kun Nhim said.
Kun Nhim told RFA last week that Chingyeun Plastics, a Chinese-owned company with Cambodian shareholders, had brought the 1,600 tonnes of waste into Cambodia in 86 shipping containers on multiple occasions since October 2018.
The company, which had purchased the waste from still-unidentified U.S. and Canadian firms, had never filed tax declarations, he said in RFA’s earlier report.
The shipping containers and their contents were discovered by authorities at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port last week during a crackdown on banned waste.
Also speaking to RFA on Monday, San Chey of the Cambodian office of ANSA (Affiliated Network for Social Accountability), said he doubts that anyone will be brought to trial or convicted in the case, citing what he called a culture of double standards in Cambodian law enforcement.
“We know that the waste in question had been stored at the port over a long period of time before it was discovered, and proper inspection mechanisms were in place before those containers were taken off the vessels,” he said.
“Why couldn’t they find anyone responsible for this?” he asked. “Before long, this matter will be concluded without anyone being found who can be blamed.”
Meanwhile, eight families of victims killed or injured last month by the collapse of a Chinese-owned but unlicensed seven-storey building have filed lawsuits demanding compensation for their losses, sources said on Monday.
The June 22 collapse killed 28 people and injured 26, many of whom were construction workers sleeping on the building’s second floor at the time of the collapse.
One suit, filed by the Japanese family of the owner of a store near the collapsed building, is now being processed by the Preah Sihanouk provincial court, Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian rights group Licadho told RFA.
“For now, only seven other families have filed lawsuits to claim compensation from the Chinese company. One of these families lives in Kompong Cham province, and the other six are in Prey Veng province,” he said.
“I have learned that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s legal team is assisting them with this issue,” he said.
Though victims’ families have already received some financial assistance from the government, the families who have not yet filed suits are still entitled to receive compensation from the company responsible for the collapsed building’s construction, Am Sam Ath said.
“They can file a lawsuit for such compensation at any time they like,” he said.
Chinese investment has flowed into casinos, hotels, and real estate in Preah Sihanouk province and its largest town, Sihanoukville, turning the once sleepy seaside town into a flashpoint for Cambodians concerned about Chinese economic penetration of their country.
Cambodians complain about unscrupulous business practices, gangland violence, and unbecoming behavior by growing crowds of Chinese investors and tourists drawn to Sihanoukville and a nearby Chinese Special Economic Zone connected to Beijing’s Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.