Panama Papers Link Justice Minister to Fraudsters

Two convicted Cambodian-American fraudsters were named among five shareholders, including Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana, in a shadowy offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands in the latest trove of “Panama Papers,” which were released on Tuesday.

Select information on more than 200,000 offshore companies was made public by the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the second installment of data based on 11 million documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana speaks to lawmakers at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh last month. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana speaks to lawmakers at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh in March. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The ICIJ’s initial report last month shows that Mr. Vong Vathana paid $5,000 for shares in the company RCD International Limited, which existed for just over three years after being registered in early 2007. The justice minister threatened to sue over the revelation.

Though offshore companies can be used for money laundering and tax evasion, the purpose of RCD International Limited remains unknown.

Mr. Vong Vathana’s four fellow shareholders in the firm were made public on Tuesday. Among them are two men charged with forging documents in Phnom Penh in December of 2010, just two months after RCD was struck from a Hong Kong-based registry.

Ray Chhat Dam and Soush Saroeun were arrested in December 2010 by the Interior Ministry’s internal security department along with two other associates on suspicion of passing $500 million in fake checks, National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said at the time.

Mr. Saroeun’s name was misspelled by the ICIJ as Sakoeun, though the consortium gave the disclaimer that some names may be spelled wrong because of the poor quality of scanned documents.

Mr. Dam, whose surname is misspelled Bam, remains listed as the chairman of the Office of International Treasury Control, a fraudulent organization that claims on its website to be given sovereign entity status by the U.N.

U.N. spokesman Sovanna Mann on Tuesday denied any connection between the U.N. and the company, which claims on its website to “do the greatest amount of good for the Nations and the People of the World, with the resources it has available to it.”

The website claims the organization “is the largest single owner of gold and platinum bullion in the World,” which it uses to “inject finance into any one Nation.”

The Fiji Sun reported in 2006 that the organization had been exposed as a “sham” after a much-hyped promise to invest $3.5 billion to establish an indigenous Fijian bank collapsed.

Ouch Sophal, the lawyer who represented Mr. Dam in Phnom Penh, confirmed that his client and Mr. Saroeun were arrested in December 2010 and charged with forging documents.

“Ray C Dam was imprisoned for about two months and then he was released, but I don’t know if Soush Saroeun was released the same time,” he said, adding that he had no further involvement with the case.

Kerm Sarin, head of administration for the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, said he did not know whether the pair had remained in Cambodia.

Serviced apartments now stand on the location in Daun Penh district where Mr. Saroeun’s residence is listed in the ICIJ documents. A receptionist at the apartment building said nobody with Mr. Saroeun’s name lived there.

The other shareholders in RCD International Limited are Malaysia-based Arthur Chan Wai Kong and Lek Bopha, who once served as an adviser to the Council of Ministers and holds the royally bestowed title of “oknha” for those who have made significant donations to the state, according to government documents available online.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan on Tuesday said he had never heard of Mr. Bopha.

Mr. Vong Vathana could not be reached on Tuesday, though he has denied having ever held shares in offshore companies.

“I don’t know that company; how could I buy a share?” he said in an interview with Thmey Thmey news service in April.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said on Tuesday that he could not comment on whether the minister knew Mr. Dam or Mr. Saroeun, as it was a personal matter.

The latest trove of documents were released by the ICIJ via a searchable database. Though 30 people “linked to” Cambodia are named, Mr. Vong Vathana and Mr. Bopha appeared to be the only public officials in a group otherwise made up of private citizens.

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