Authorities in Cambodia on Friday said they have launched an investigation into a Chinese firm found to have imported 1,600 tons of banned plastic waste into the coastal city of Sihanoukville, but environmental activists suggested that those conducting the probe are likely complicit in the crime.
Kun Nhim, director-general of the General Department of Customs and Excise told RFA’s Khmer Service that Chingyeun Plastics, a Chinese-owned company with Cambodian shareholders, was responsible for bringing the waste into Cambodia via 86 shipping containers on multiple occasions since October last year, and had never made tax declarations.
The shipping containers and their contents were discovered by authorities at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port earlier this week during a crackdown on banned waste.
“The company is registered with the Ministry of Commerce,” Kun Nhim said, adding that the company’s owner “claims to be a Cambodian, but there are Chinese staffers working for it.”
A police investigation is ongoing, he said, but whether the company will face prosecution “is up to the authorities.”
Kun Nhim said he does not know the names of the firms in the U.S. and Canada that shipped the waste to Cambodia.
“We are verifying the shipment information,” he said.
According to Kun Nhim, the U.S. and Canadian governments have requested information from Cambodian authorities about the shipments.
“The U.S. Embassy said they will cooperate on the matter,” he said.
“We will work with the local company, while the U.S. will work on the companies based there.”
The Khmer Times quoted Kun Nhim as saying that the Ministry of Commerce plans to fine Chingyeun “because it imported banned goods,” adding that its containers were labeled as recycled products.
U.S. Embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg told RFA that Washington is aware of the reports of plastic waste imports to Sihanoukville.
“We have requested additional information and are offering U.S. government assistance to determine both the exporter (country of origin) and the importing entity here in Cambodia,” she said in an emailed statement.
Thun Ratha, an activist with local environmental watchdog Mother Nature, told RFA he felt ashamed that Cambodia had allowed plastic waste to be dumped in the country, and said he has “no faith” in the police investigation into the case, suggesting authorities “may try to hide information about it.”
“The investigating authorities may have been the ones who were involved with [the import of the plastic waste],” he said.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told RFA that Cambodia is working to return the waste to where it came from.
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 flash point 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.
On June 22, a Chinese-owned unlicensed seven-story building collapsed in the provincial capital Sihanoukville, killing 28 people and injuring 26—many of whom were construction workers sleeping on the second floor at the time of the incident.
While Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min announced his resignation days after the collapse, he was later appointed secretary of state to Cambodia’s Ministry of Defense and promoted as a four-star general, despite anger from the public over his mishandling of the disaster.
In May, Sihanoukville authorities shut down a Chinese-owned casino accused of polluting an adjacent beach following the casino’s defiance of orders to cease operations.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.