Ambassador to Australia Faces Graft Claims

Cambodia’s ambassador to Australia was told by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday to respond to allegations that he and his staff have been illegally selling large quantities of tax-exempt alcohol and tobacco to a store in Melbourne.

The Australian Border Force has been investigating the Canberra-based Cambodian Embassy and a duty-free liquor and cigarette store in Melbourne for six months over suspicions that tax-free imported goods intended for embassy staff were being sold to the public, Fairfax Media reported on Tuesday.

Koy Kuong speaks to the media in 2011. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Koy Kuong speaks to the media in 2011. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Chum Sounry, the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman and former ambassador to Australia, said on Wednesday that current Ambassador Koy Kuong had been told to respond to the allegations.

“Now the ministry is waiting on clarification from His Excellency Koy Kuong because we just received this information this morning…. The Ministry advised his excellency Koy Kuong to answer to that information,” Mr. Sounry said, declining to comment further on the topic.

The Fairfax article claims that the large quantities of alcohol and cigarettes ordered by embassy officials through duty-free shop Unique International never left the store and were instead sold for a hefty profit.

“[The] products remained at the store and were sold at retail prices in an alleged rort that is estimated to have netted up to $200,000,” it said, using a term for fraud.

Embassies operating in Australia are limited to importing 260 liters of liquor, 1,000 liters of beer and 20,000 individual cigarettes every six months, according to the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

Certain sanctioned individuals such as ambassadors can also import half of those amounts for their personal use every six months, the website says.

Mr. Kuong, who was appointed to the post in June last year, did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday, though he told local news website Fresh News that the allegation was “ridiculous.” Other officials at the embassy could not be reached. Representatives from Unique International also could not be reached on Wednesday.

An hourlong advertorial for the business on YouTube features owner Seng Taing discussing his history as a migrant from Cambodia. Mr. Taing also claims to donate a portion of his earnings to an Australia-based pagoda and charities such as the Red Cross.

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