Who’s Cambodia’s richest man? “Always matching with my partner in crime,” wrote Vichhuna Neth, Hun Kimleng and Hun Chantha, the prime minister’s nieces, with matching rings. (Leng Len/VOA Khmer), Protests erupted in Phnom Penh after Cambodia’s 2013 general election. Red envelopes of cash are traditionally handed out as gifts at Chinese New Year, an occasion the couple used to give money to thousands of soldiers, police and Hun Sen bodyguards who gathered outside their mansion in Phnom Penh, according to local media reports. Most of those applying for Cypriot passports were Russians, with an increasing number coming from China, according to documents from Cyprus’s interior ministry that Reuters has seen. Twenty of them applied through Andreas Demetriades & Co., the law firm. It was December 2017. These prominent Cambodians all sought Cypriot citizenship during a turbulent period when Hun Sen’s grip on power seemed to be faltering.

The main opposition party had just been outlawed, the latest move in Hun Sen’s campaign to eradicate his political rivals.

Throughout that time Hun Sen remained prime minister and continued in office once an agreement had been reached between the CPP and CNRP. So did two of Hun Sen’s closest and wealthiest allies. Supporters of a resurgent opposition party spilled onto Phnom Penh’s streets to protest suspected election fraud, and only dispersed after military police opened fire and killed or injured dozens of people. For some, the passport was also “an insurance policy.”, “Let’s admit it,” he said. REUTERS/Stringer, A billboard near Paphos advertises real estate in Chinese.

Photo editing: Simon Newman and Kerk Chon.

The opposition leader was forced into exile and his successor put under house arrest. The European Union says three of its member states – Cyprus, Malta and Bulgaria – run what it calls “investor citizenship schemes.” Of those, Cyprus’s is the largest and most lucrative - and, say critics, the least transparent.

“It just means that you have to investigate further their source of funds.”. Hun Sen has frequently denounced his political rivals for obtaining second passports, once declaring them “an escape route from difficulties in Cambodia.” His niece’s Cypriot citizenship is confirmed by a confidential document sent by Cyprus’s Ministry of Interior to its cabinet, which Reuters has seen. Neth Savoeun | Hun Kimleng’s husband and Cambodia’s national police chief. “Invest in Cyprus, enjoy its benefits,” says one, in English and Chinese.

By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. Lau is a senator for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party.

Turmoil ensued. Announcing our NEW encyclopedia for Kids! A Reuters analysis showed that at least 22 of JWPegasus’ 26 shareholders have applied for Cypriot passports. Wealth is a touchy subject in Cambodia. These detail thousands of applications for Cypriot passports by wealthy foreigners. Hun Kimleng bought the apartment in 2010 for £1.95 million ($2.5 million), according to official property records.

The United States and European Union were threatening sanctions, and Hun Sen had a message for them. There was no point in the West trying to seize the foreign assets of Cambodian officials, he went on, because they “wouldn’t be so damn stupid as to keep their assets overseas.”. Choeung Sopheap | A powerful businesswoman and close friend of the prime minister’s wife. In February 2019, in a rare public disclosure, the Cypriot government said it had approved 1,864 applications between 2013 and 2018, involving transactions totalling €6.6 billion. And while the prime minister spoke about eating grass, Instagram showed some relatives feasting on caviar in London. Hun Sen, however, refused to cede power, and, under an agreement imposed by international powers, a coalition government was formed, with the prince named first prime minister and Hun Sen second prime minister. “It just means that you have to investigate further their source of funds.”. In a violent coup in July 1997 Hun Sen deposed Prince Ranariddh, who had made overtures to remnants of the Khmer Rouge, and appointed a replacement. Not to my knowledge.”. The company, called JWPegasus, was incorporated in Cyprus in May 2015 to help fund the construction of a Radisson Blu hotel in Larnaca, the country’s third-largest city. If Hun Sen stepped down tomorrow, Vladimir Putin would have to rule Russia for another 15 years to match his time in power. She invested at least €2 million in a Radisson Blu hotel in Cyprus in 2017 and got citizenship the same year. The Asian Development Bank estimates that 70% of people live on about $3 a day, and Hun Sen has long projected himself as a leader who suffers alongside his poorest compatriots. These prominent Cambodians all sought Cypriot citizenship during a turbulent period when Hun Sen’s grip on power seemed to be faltering.

Police said he was killed by a man he owed money. JWPegasus declined to comment on individual investors but said that, to its knowledge, none of them had “any illegal activities.” Radisson Blu said that its due diligence, carried out before doing business with JWPegasus, “did not reveal any suspicious activity at that time.”. These detail thousands of applications for Cypriot passports by wealthy foreigners. Demetris Demetriades, a senior partner, said the firm had processed “hundreds” of applications, but declined to confirm the interior ministry’s tally of 137 or talk about specific clients. Khmer Riche How relatives and allies of Cambodia's leader amassed wealth overseas Cambodia’s ruling elite are patriots who would never hide money abroad, says the country’s leader, Hun Sen. Hun Sen has frequently denounced his political rivals for obtaining second passports, once declaring them “an escape route from difficulties in Cambodia.” His niece’s Cypriot citizenship is confirmed by a confidential document sent by Cyprus’s Ministry of Interior to its cabinet, which Reuters has seen. The citizenship for sale programme took off in 2013 after a banking crisis almost wiped out Cyprus’s economy. “Everyone is making an escape plan,” he said. It was Hun Sen’s worst showing in 15 years.

In 1993 elections the royalist party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the son of head of state King Norodom Sihanouk, outpolled Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Hun Sen has accused Global Witness of telling lies. In 2017, the U.S. State Department put Neth Savoeun, Hun Kimleng and their three children on a “visa blacklist” for undermining democracy, according to a U.S. official and another source. His recent troubles trace back to a general election in 2013. The Cyprus interior ministry document confirming Hun Kimleng’s citizenship is dated 21 November 2017. Opposition groups believe the vote was rigged. “Cyprus,” she gushed, “you’ve been AMAZING! REUTERS/Stringer, Hun Sen planting rice in 2008. Another of Choeung and Lau’s companies was embroiled in the eviction of thousands of families from a development site in Phnom Penh; many of those who protested the evictions were beaten and jailed. While the letter mentioning Hun Kimleng confirms she is a Cypriot citizen, the other letters are only recommendations.

The United Nations sought to bring the perpetrators to justice before an international tribunal, but Hun Sen insisted on relying on the Cambodian court system. They show her driving a dune buggy along a coastal road and reclining in an open-air jacuzzi at a luxury villa. He became prime minister in 1985. The country’s economic woes forced it to seek a €10-billion international bailout and scramble to secure other forms of investment.

An Instagram photo shows him driving a Mercedes while holding a fistful of banknotes. If Hun Sen stepped down tomorrow, Vladimir Putin would have to rule Russia for another 15 years to match his time in power. Choeung and Lau are both in their seventies, and their family has business or marriage links to four of Hun Sen’s five children. Cyprus seems less strict.

The United States called the election “the most significant setback yet” to Cambodian democracy. One report quoted the couple’s son saying they had been making the mass donations for nearly a decade. “Caesar's wife must not only be honest, but must also look honest,” he said. So did two of Hun Sen’s closest and wealthiest allies. This time, his party won 77% of the vote – and every single seat. Hun Sen remained defiant. Speaking at a factory near Phnom Penh in February, he said he didn’t have a second nationality or a house abroad, and chose instead “to eat grass with the Cambodian people.”. There was no point in the West trying to seize the foreign assets of Cambodian officials, he went on, because they “wouldn’t be so damn stupid as to keep their assets overseas.”. #familyinlondon. Hun Sen has accused Global Witness of telling lies.

Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. Under Cypriot law, the daughters are eligible for citizenship if they are “financially dependent” on the primary applicant, who in this case is their mother, Hun Kimleng. But he couldn’t help himself.

The documents take the form of a letter, in which the interior minister summarizes an application for Cypriot citizenship and recommends the cabinet approve it. JWPegasus declined to comment on individual investors but said that, to its knowledge, none of them had “any illegal activities.” Radisson Blu said that its due diligence, carried out before doing business with JWPegasus, “did not reveal any suspicious activity at that time.”. For a wealthy global elite, it’s Cyprus’s freedoms that are appealing. Among them was Hun Kimleng’s wealthy young daughter, Vichhuna Neth. Each applicant must invest at least €2 million in Cyprus. Hun Chantha | Another of the prime minister’s nieces. She co-owns London properties worth millions of dollars and takes private jets to posh European resorts. He has jailed or exiled political rivals, shut down media outlets and crushed street protests. Four of their five children also applied for Cypriot passports in the same year. “I don't think this gift makes Prime Minister Hun Sen look bad in any shape or form.”.

The opposition leader was forced into exile and his successor put under house arrest.

In the late 1960s he joined the Communist Party of Kampuchea and in 1970 joined the Khmer Rouge. But a Reuters investigation shows that Hun Sen's family and officials have overseas assets worth tens of millions of dollars, and some have bought themselves European citizenship.

In a series of reports in the early 2000s, Global Witness, a London-based anti-corruption group, used aerial surveys and field inspections to document years of illegal logging by Pheapimex. At no point in the application process is the applicant compelled to live in – or even visit – Cyprus.

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