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US sanctions Cambodian officials over alleged corruption at Ream Naval Base

November 11, 2021 GMT

The US government on Wednesday sanctioned Cambodian officials for alleged graft at the Southeast Asian nation’s largest naval base, where the demolition of structures funded by Washington has drawn criticism from US officials concerned about China’s access to the facility.

Chau Phirun, director general of the defence ministry’s material and technical services department, “conspired to profit from activities regarding the construction and updating of Ream Naval Base facilities”, the Treasury Department announced.

Chau, Royal Cambodian Navy Commander Tea Vinh and other government officials “likely conspired to inflate the cost of facilities at (the base) and personally benefit from the proceeds”, it added.

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The new sanctions, which will bar Chau, Tea and immediate family members from entering the US, are authorised by a clause in the US government’s appropriations law that targets officials of foreign governments who “have been involved, directly or indirectly, in significant corruption, including corruption related to the extraction of natural resources, or a gross violation of human rights”.

The US Treasury Department will freeze any assets held by the two officials and their immediate family members under the authority of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which has been invoked against Chinese government officials and organisations accused of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The move escalates a point of friction between the US and Cambodia that recently came into sharper focus. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman raised “serious concerns” during a trip to the country in June about a Chinese military presence and construction of facilities at the Ream base, according to the department.

Defence Minister Tea Banh said China was helping to build infrastructure with “no strings attached”. A week later, a US defence attache was refused full access during a visit to the base, further rankling Washington.

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US concerns over the Ream base rose again last month after Washington think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies released satellite images showing what it said were new structures, including three new buildings and a road.

The report by the think tank’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative also said other areas at the base had been cleared, potentially for more construction. It said the purpose of the construction was unclear and there were “concerns that the new facilities are being built to facilitate a Chinese military presence in Cambodia”.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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