Prime Minister Hun Sen’s family and loyal government officials lashed out Thursday at the anti-corruption group Global Witness for its report that revealed the strongman and his family have amassed at least $200 million in wealth since he took control of the Cambodian government more than three daces ago.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan told RFA’s Khmer Service the report titled "Hostile Takeover" was no surprise, saying that it is routine for Global Witness and its “alliance system” to attack Hun Sen.
“It is Global Witness’ routine to attack Prime Minister Hun Sen from year to year,” he told RFA. “And Global Witness is among the allies of the opposition party, including RFA and certain media outlets. It is their so-called alliance system.”
CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan, in an interview with RFA, accused Global Witness of holding a grudge against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s family. Hun Sen’s children are citizens and they have full rights to do any business or investment in accordance with the country’s laws, he said.
“Why can’t Samdech’s family do business just like any other family? What is wrong with that?” he said using a Khmer honorific for Hun Sen. “Cambodia’s law does not ban that.”
Sok Eysan attacked Global Witness for sticking its nose where it does not belong.
“There is an inspecting institution. There is the Anti-Corruption Unit,” he said. “It is not up to Global Witness to come and look us over. This is an independent and sovereign state.”
Call for an investigation
Opposition party members took a different tack, urging the Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate the allegations raised in the report. CNRP senior official and member-of-parliament Eng Chhay Iang told RFA that this and other cases have an impact on the national interest.
“In short, it is the ACU’s duty to investigate,” he said. “We urge all state institutions to fully implement their duty to make everything transparent.”
Executive Director of the Cambodian Human Rights Center (CCHR) Chak Sopheap told RFA that the Cambodian people deserve an explanation.
“For public civil servants to protect their name and legitimacy, I think if they can prove they are right they should give an explanation to the public, rather than just rejecting this as an attempt to mislead or defame the government,” she said.
Hun Sen’s family took to Facebook to criticize Global Witness and the local news outlets that published stories on the report. Hun Sen didn’t write a post himself, other than to thank his family for its defense and to say: “I would like to post [their] comments on my page.”
One of his sons, Hun Manith, called the report “an attack against the Hun family that was very well organized and coordinated among Global Witness, Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post, showing clearly their goal.”
“As usual, this news is full of error and inaccuracy, and its sole attempt is to humiliate and defame the Hun clan,” he added.
While the Hun family accused media outlets of being in cahoots with Global Witness, their Facebook posts had remarkably similar themes.
'An attempt to destroy my father'
One of his daughters, Hun Mana, accused news outlets of playing favorites at election time.
“Every time when the election is approaching, you always do this kind of thing in an attempt to destroy my father,” she wrote.
While Hun Sen and the CPP have ruled the country for more than three decades, Cambodia’s ruling party suffered a dramatic drop in support during the country’s last election in 2013. It could see even more erosion in the 2017 commune elections and 2018 general election.
In her post Hun Mana sarcastically wrote that she admired “the Phnom Penh Post and the Cambodia Daily for disseminating this news at the same time and date. That shows there was good cooperation between the two media outlets and Global Witness to destroy the distinguished name of the Hun family. Please do continue doing such work if you have nothing else to do.”
Global Witness’s report was distributed in advance to the media, including RFA, under an embargo to publication until a set time – a common media practice of which the Hun family appears to be unaware.
Hun Manet, who appears to be his father’s designated successor, sang a similar tune, saying Global Witness creates “strange stories” to attack the government at election time only: “This time not attacking only against my father, but the whole family, no exception. Wait and see what will come next.”
Global Witness is not alone in pointing out corruption in Cambodia.
Corruption watchdog Transparency International gave Cambodia a low score of 21 out of 100 in its 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), released in January. That placed Hun Sen’s country at 150th out of 168 countries ranked.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.