Australia-based ANZ bank is seeking to control 100 percent of its banking operations in Cambodia, company officials said Monday.
ANZ entered an agreement in 2005 with local conglomerate Royal Group to create ANZ Royal bank, which now has 19 branches throughout the country.
“ANZ would prefer to completely own 100 percent of its operations in Cambodia,” said ANZ Royal CEO Grant Knuckey.
“We would prefer over time to be 100 percent owners of every business, including this one [in Cambodia],” he added.
In order to own its bank in Cambodia outright, ANZ could either buy out Royal Group, which owns 45 percent of the bank’s shares, or offload its shares and open a new bank, which would require a new license with the National Bank of Cambodia.
Mr. Knuckey’s comments follow a report Monday in The Sydney Morning Herald stating that ANZ wants to offload its majority stake in its Cambodia operations.
Mr. Knuckey refuted the Australian newspaper’s report.
“We have no intention to leave the market,” he said.
The Sydney Morning Herald quotes Melbourne-based ANZ CEO Mike Smith, referring to the 2012 sale of ANZ’s stake in Vietnam’s Sacombank, saying: “We would like to do the same in Cambodia. I would much rather have a wholly-owned business in these places.”
The Sydney Morning Herald report went on to say that “partial stakes in Asian banks could be problematic because ANZ received only a portion of profits but had 100 percent of its reputation invested in the holdings.”
The report comes two months after allegations surfaced in January that ANZ Royal had helped finance a refinery on a controversial sugar plantation in Kompong Speu—owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat—that led to the forced eviction of hundreds of families.
Mr. Knuckey on Monday clarified Mr. Smith’s comments, which he said were taken out of context.
“The actual position of ANZ is that we prefer to have a 100 percent-owned business, and ANZ would like to have a 100 percent-owned business in Cambodia,” he said.
Kith Meng, the well-connected chairman of Royal Group, is president of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce and one of the country’s richest men. Mr. Meng was chairman of ANZ Royal from its 2005 inception until 2011.
Mr. Knuckey declined to comment on whether ANZ hopes to take over the shares of Mr. Meng’s Royal Group. “I’m not going to comment on that,” he said.
Mark Hanna, Royal Group’s chief financial officer, said that he was “completely surprised” by the news that ANZ wanted 100 control of its Cambodian banking operations, adding that he was also unaware of The Sydney Morning Herald report.
“It’s a complete surprise to me. I’ve not heard from ANZ on this,” he said. “I have not seen the article. I cannot really comment on this until I am aware of it.”
Earlier this month, a news report by the London-based online magazine TMT Finance said that Royal Group’s mobile operator Cellcard was seeking investors and wanted to sell off its telecommunications towers because it is unable to raise new capital.
Royal Group executives adamantly denied the report, and Mr. Hanna called it “absolute horse s—.”