A close ally of Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen Ally, has caused concern after purchasing a little-known private bank in London. The bank has been described as “shadowy” and raises questions about the ally’s sources of funding. Critics fear the acquisition could be used for money laundering or to hide ill-gotten gains.
Hun Sen Ally, the Prime Minister of Cambodia, has maintained his grip on power for over 30 years with the support of his allies. One such ally is Heng Samrin, the President of the National Assembly and a former leader of the Khmer Rouge.
Heng Samrin was a key figure in the Cambodian revolution, which overthrew the brutal regime of Pol Pot in 1979. He went on to lead the People’s Republic of Kampuchea until 1989 when he helped broker a peace deal that led to Cambodia’s transition to a multiparty democracy.
Today, Heng Samrin remains a trusted ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen Ally and plays a crucial role in the country’s political landscape. His support has helped Hun Sen maintain stability and control in Cambodia, despite criticism from human rights groups and the international community.
Private banks are financial institutions that are owned and operated by private individuals, partnerships, or corporations, rather than by the government. These banks offer a range of financial services, including savings and checking accounts, loans, mortgages, credit cards, and investment services.
Private banks are often more focused on providing personalized services to their clients, particularly those with high net worth. They may offer tailored investment strategies, wealth management services, and other specialized financial products and services.
Private banks are generally smaller than their larger, public counterparts and may have a more local or regional focus. However, some private banks can be quite large and operate internationally.
Visa and Mastercard:-
Visa and Mastercard are two of the most widely recognized and accepted payment card brands in the world. They are both financial services companies that offer credit, debit, and prepaid cards that can be used to make purchases at millions of merchants globally.
Visa and Mastercard do not issue credit or debit cards directly to consumers, but they work with banks and other financial institutions to provide their services to cardholders. These financial institutions are responsible for issuing the cards, setting the terms and conditions for their use, and providing customer service to cardholders.
Visa and Mastercard use similar technologies to process payments, but there are some differences between the two. For example, Visa tends to have a larger market share globally, while Mastercard is more popular in certain regions such as Europe. Additionally, some merchants may only accept one type of card, while others accept both.
Overall, both Visa and Mastercard offer convenient and secure ways to make purchases, and consumers can choose the card that best fits their needs and preferences.
Regulations and guidelines for private banks:-
Private banks, like all financial institutions, are subject to regulations and guidelines designed to ensure their safe and sound operation and to protect the interests of their customers. Some of the key rules and regulations that private banks must follow include:
1. Licensing and registration: Private banks must be licensed and registered with the appropriate regulatory authorities in the countries or jurisdictions where they operate.
2. Capital adequacy: Private banks are required to maintain sufficient capital to absorb potential losses and maintain their financial stability.
3. Risk management: Private banks must have effective systems and controls in place to identify, measure, monitor, and manage their risks, including credit risk, market risk, liquidity risk, and operational risk.
4. Anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CTF): Private banks are required to comply with AML and CTF regulations to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities.
5. Consumer protection: Private banks must treat their customers fairly and transparently and provide clear and accurate information about their products and services.
6. Privacy and data protection: Private banks must protect the privacy and confidentiality of their customer’s personal and financial information.
7. Governance and accountability: Private banks must have effective governance structures and procedures in place to ensure accountability and transparency in their operations.
8. Reporting and disclosure: Private banks are required to report to regulators and disclose information to the public about their financial condition, operations, and risk profile.
These are just some of the key rules and regulations that private banks must follow.
Late last year, Connected Limited, a British provider of payment services, was purchased by one of the richest families in Cambodia, a country in Southeast Asia, one with strong connections to the prime minister, Hun Sen. By its role as a go-between for small businesses and significant credit cards companies like Visa and MasterCard, that corporation brings in millions of dollars yearly.
In November 2020, Connectum was acquired by Heng Sokha, the spouse of Ing Bun Hoaw, a former secretary of state for the Transport Ministry. According to experts, this should give British banking regulators cause for concern.
For starters, Heng Sokha’s husband is a former lawmaker and high-ranking official who needs to have his financial dealings further investigated due to his long-standing connections to the Cambodian government.
Bun Hoaw has already used his connections in the government to launch successful businesses, such as collecting tolls on the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville motorway that was supported by the US government.
But that just tells half the tale. The other half has to do with the business they recently acquired.
A Latvian resident who worked as an executive at two Latvian banks involved in money laundering incidents founded Connectum seven years ago.
Connected bills itself as a “private bank” but lacks the necessary licenses to function as one. The executive, Edgars Lasmanis, whose father has been missing for years due to separate bribery allegations, for a time, joined Connectum as a partner with an alleged serial fraudster.
A Russian cryptocurrency company that is now on trial in Russia for allegedly defrauding its consumers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars is one of Connectum’s clients, further obscuring the situation.
Radio Free Asia has investigated the background of two families, the Latvian Lasmanis family, and the Cambodian Bun Hoaw clan, in order to connect the dots in this complicated saga. Then, we look at how their tales have collided in the wild world of British finance.
Prime Minister Hun Sen Ally and Ruling Party Accused of Storing Wealth Abroad.
The well-connected elite of Cambodia who has ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen Ally and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party frequently invest or store their money abroad. Radio Free Asia has highlighted this pattern in a number of investigative reports.
In 1993, when Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen Ally was hosting its first democratic elections, Bun Hoaw founded a trading company in Phnom Penh, which cover the way for his future success.
The AZ Group, today with assets in Myanmar, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and India, was the name of the organization that would later exist. The company’s early activities are not well documented, but whatever it accomplished, it was undoubtedly successful. Bun Hoaw received the traditional title of “oknha” in 1996, which was used to formalize the CPP’s patronage arrangement with the nation’s newly growing class of commercial magnates beginning in the mid-1990s.
The license to collect tolls on National Route 4 in Cambodia was granted to the AZ Group in 2001 under Prime Minister Hun Sen Ally. The U.S. government helped build the road, which spans 140 miles and connects Phnom Penh with Sihanoukville, the country’s principal port city when it was built in the 1950s. In the 1990s, it was renovated.
The concession was given to the AZ Group secretly and without a competitive or public bidding process, according to anti-corruption activists. Some remarked cynically that it had been awarded as a build-operate-transfer contract despite the fact that the road had been constructed with U.S. government funding years earlier.
When Bun Hoaw was chosen to represent the CPP in the National Assembly as a lawmaker for the Takeo province in 2003, he further confirmed his connection with the country’s ruling party. His victory brought in a wave of AZ Group favouritism from the government.
A multimillion-dollar government contract to set up a system for making international phone calls over the internet in Cambodia was given to the AZ Group a month before the 2003 elections. On behalf of the AZ Group, the government obtained a $30 million loan from China in the summer of 2003 to fund the construction of a new mobile phone network.
In late 2004, the AZ Group began charging a toll for taxis and passenger cars to use National Route 4. Police using assault weapons and cattle prods severely smashed driver protests after the action sparked them.
“The business didn’t update the road. Since the Americans constructed it, nothing has changed. Since the corporation did nothing to improve the road, the government shouldn’t permit the company to charge us money, one of the protesting cab drivers at the time told the Cambodia Daily.
The AZ Group, however, continued to receive benefits since it was also given a permit to conduct bauxite exploration in the province of Mondulkiri. The Australian mining firm BHP Billiton later received that license, and a few years later it left the country after charges that it had given $2.5 million in bribes to Cambodian government officials. Furthermore, in 2005, a 44 per cent stake was in Cambodia’s government-owned Foreign Trade Bank.
Bun Hoaw’s appointment to the central committee of the Cambodian Red Cross in 2006 strengthened his relationship with the CPP’s senior leadership. The Cambodian Red Cross, which is run by Prime Minister Hun Sen Ally’s wife Bun Rany, has been called the “humanitarian wing of the CPP.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen Ally Faces Loss of Favour with Oknha Status in Question.
Bun Hoaw resigned from his position in the National Assembly in 2008, gave his wife ownership of the AZ Group of companies, and was appointed secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, which was in charge of overseeing the contentious management of National Road 4 by the AZ Group.
In order to run in the presidential elections that year, Bun Hoaw gave up his position as secretary of state. He was defeated by the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). The oknha looked to lose Prime Minister Hun Sen Ally’s favour for a while. Bun Hoaw left his job as a government advisor in 2015, and the prime minister ordered that AZ Group’s authorization to collect tolls on National Route 4 be revoked the following year.
But the family’s prospects were far from over. In order to make room for its enormous “ING City” development, ING Holdings, a company of the AZ Group, has been filling in hundreds of hectares of water on the outskirts of Phnom Penh since 2005. Since the project’s start, civil society organizations have raised concerns about it, pointing out that it will uproot about 1,000 families and put one million people in Phnom Penh in greater danger of floods.
The Cambodian government cancelled the land titles for 190 hectares that had been granted to ING Holdings in July 2020, perhaps in response to these objections. But, as the business stressed at the time, the revoked titles would not be a substantial barrier to the construction, accounting for less than 10% of the project’s 2,572 hectares.
The AZ Group is still one of Cambodia’s top companies today. It does not disclose its financial statements, an RFA study of data stolen from the Ministry of Commerce by NGO Global Witness discovered that Cambodian companies led by Sokha and Bun Hoaw had a total share value of $81.8 million in 2014. As the share price of private Cambodian companies is rarely an accurate reflection of their capitalization and because the family’s businesses have grown domestically and internationally over the last many years, the true value is likely far higher.
Prime Minister Hun Sen Ally’s Purge Continues as National Border Guard Commander is Removed.
The founder of Connectum’s company, Leonids Lasmanis, was climbing the ranks of Latvia’s national border guard at the same time as Bun Hoaw was starting out in the commercial world of Cambodia.
Similar to Cambodia, Latvia held its first democratic elections after the Cold War in 1993. With its location on the Baltic Sea and its proximity to Russia, Latvia was one of the 15 Soviet Union successor states that sought to carve out their own identities after the fall of communism.
During the transformation of his nation, Leonids Lasmanis had more failures than Bun Hoaw. In June 1993, due to a lost stock of automatic guns, Prime Minister Hun Sen Ally removed him from his position as commander of the national border guard. Lasmanis, who left the military to pursue a career in politics, next made news in 2000 when he accidentally shot himself with his service gun while drinking. He was a deputy in the Riga city assembly.
But, the injury was not fatal, and he lived to suffer yet another round of humiliation in 2006 when authorities accused him of participating in a scheme to bribe municipal council members with tens of thousands of euros. Lasmanis escaped, apparently to Russia, rather than stand trial alongside his alleged co-conspirators, who were all found guilty. As recently as last year, Lasmanis was on Europol’s most wanted list.
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