back to top
World

It Turns Out Cambodia's Ruling Family Is Shady AF

A new report says that longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family are quietly dominating Cambodia's economy and lining their pockets, contrary to local laws.

Posted on

Cambodia's Prime Minister and his family have become very, very rich while brazenly flouting local anti-corruption laws, according to a new report published Wednesday on the family's grasp on the country's business sector.

Prime Minister Hun Sen first came to power in 1985, after the fall of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, and has held control ever since. Even being voted out of office in 1993 didn't stop him from asserting control of the southeast Asian state. Over the years, Hun has positioned himself as a useful bulwark to China's control of the region, garnering support from the United States even as his government continually cracks down on dissidence.

Back in 2011, Hun publicly declared — under the country's new anti-corruption laws — that his only source of income was his relatively paltry government salary. In fact, according to Global Witness, the group that authored the report, Hun and his family have business interests in companies with a "total listed share capital of more than US$ 200 million."

That includes 103 companies that list Hun or a member of his family as "chairperson, director or as having a shareholding of more than 25%, meaning that they exercise total or substantial control." Thirty companies are listed as a "Single Member Private Limited Company," meaning a family member is likely the sole owner of the venture. The empire stretches across the Cambodian economy, including the mining sector, gambling, and real estate.

Global Witness, which primarily used data from the Cambodian Commerce Ministry's online corporate registry to untangle the web, also found Hun's family at the helm of many business ventures linked to international companies. For example, his nephew's wife "chairs iOne, Cambodia’s leading Apple retailer, and also chairs Cemtes, a company whose website suggests it is Cambodia’s ‘Authorised Agent’ for Canon products."

Despite a consistently high economic growth rate, 40% of Cambodians still live near or below the poverty line, Global Witness notes, alleging that much of the wealth coming into the country goes directly into the pockets of the Hun family.

Hun Mana, the Prime Minister's daughter who Global Witness describes as "the most prominent business tycoon in the family," took to Facebook to sarcastically praise the NGO's report.

facebook.com

"We very much understand your intention toward my Father and my Family," she wrote. "And as expected every time when we are near election time, your organization always come out with something to try to tarnish my Father reputation."

Beyond all the business ties, the number of family members Hun has appointed to high-ranking positions throughout the government is staggering:

Hun Manet, for example, the prime minister’s eldest son and heir apparent, holds four notable positions – he is deputy commander of the prime minister’s bodyguard unit, deputy chairman of the Royal Cambodian
Armed Forces Joint Staff, deputy commander of the Army and commander of Cambodia’s counterterrorism special forces. Manet’s middle brother Manith is a Lieutenant General in the military and director of the Defence Ministry’s military intelligence unit. Hun Sen’s two youngest children, Many
and Maly, are each married to the offspring of one of the country’s nine deputy prime ministers – just two examples of a plethora of intermarriages between the prime minister’s immediate family and those of powerful elites.

Cambodia clearly isn't alone in this sort of nepotism, with countries like Kazakhstan and Venezuela controlled primarily by one or several ruling families. But Global Witness argues, the Hun family is troubling both for the country's growing ties with the United States and because much of what they control is still a mystery. Since the data they pulled from is limited, and only based on what is publicly listed, the Hun empire inside Cambodia could be even far vaster than reported.

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Hayes Brown at hayes.brown@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.