After 32 Years, Esso Eyes a Return to Cambodia

malai district, Banteay Mean­chey province – Esso, a division of US-based petroleum giant Exxon Mobil Corporation, pulled out of Cambodia in 1975, the year that the Khmer Rouge took power.

Now, officials say, Esso is negotiating to import gasoline and diesel into Malai district via a company with roots in the same regime.

Som Yen, the managing director of Malay Trading, said in an interview Jan 22 that Esso and his company had reached an agreement “in principle” to import gasoline and diesel in that district, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold. Som Yen said the deal awaits formal government ap­pro­val, which he anticipated would come through. He added the fuel would be sold only in Malai.

Malay Trading, an import-export company, was co-founded by Tep Khunnal, a former Khmer Rouge diplomat to the UN in New York who later married Pol Pot’s widow Mea Som in 1998. He now serves as Malai governor.

Speaking on behalf of Mong­kolnimit Auacherdkul, director and public affairs manager of Esso Thailand, Esso Communications Manager Kitiya­vadee Nilavan confirmed that talks with Malay Trading are taking place.

Esso is negotiating with the firm to import gas and diesel to sell in Cambodia under the Ma­lay Trading brand, but no deal has been reached, she said by telephone Thursday.

She declined to comment on Malay Trading’s Khmer Rouge links.

Prime Minister Hun Sen an­nounced earlier this month that he would allow any private company to import gas from Laos, Vietnam and Thailand in a bid to reduce smuggling and cut pump prices.

“Under the new Cambodia im­port regulations, we are negotiating with our potential customers but have not yet reached agreement with any of them,” Mong­kolnimit wrote in a Friday e-mail.

Esso and ExxonMobil, which both operate under Exxon Mobil Corporation, do not currently have a registered business in Cambodia, he added.

“Esso/ExxonMobil is a reputable worldwide energy company and our policy is to comply with all applicable laws,” he wrote.

Mao Thura, an undersecretary of state at the Commerce Ministry, said Esso is not the first oil company that pulled out of Cambodia in 1975 to return.

“In 1975, they all fled,” he said. “Shell and Caltex [returned] before them.”

Tep Khunnal said late last year that Malay Trading used to illegally import gas, oil, diesel and asphalt from Thailand in 2001, but is now cleaning up its act.

“We used to do business along the borders illegally,” he said by phone. “We don’t want to do that anymore.”

Sar Patchata, Pol Pot’s daughter, said earlier this month that Tep Khunnal was being treated for malaria in a Thai hospital. He could not be reached for further comment.

  (Reporting by Prak Chan Thul, Erika Kinetz and Thet Sambath)

 

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