Australian Police Expand Cambodia Probe of OZ Minerals

Authorities in Australia have expanded the scope of their investigation into bribery allegations involving the relatives of Cambodian government officials and the former Cambodian operations of Australian miner OZ Minerals, the firm has announced.

It follows a recent announcement from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) that it has opened a fresh—unrelated—probe into a possible bribe the Australian gaming firm Tabcorp may have paid a Cambodian consultancy connected to a sister of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In its latest annual report to shareholders, released last week, OZ Minerals says it was informed by the AFP some time this year that it was widening its ongoing investigation into the firm’s 2009 buyout of a corporate partner in a mining project in Mondolkiri province.

“Since the end of the financial year, the company has been advised by the AFP that the scope of the AFP’s investigation is being extended to OZ Minerals’ former Cambodian operations generally,” the report says.

“The AFP is continuing its investigation and OZ Minerals is continuing to cooperate with the AFP. OZ Minerals has concluded that it is not probable that a present obligation exists and, accordingly, no provision has been recognised in the balance sheet at 31 December 2015.”

Neither OZ Minerals or the AFP replied to requests for comment about the expanded investigation.

After abandoning an initial probe of OZ Minerals’ Mondolkiri deal in 2012 due to “insufficient information,” the AFP reopened the case the next year following a critical report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The organization said it was concerned that the Australian police may have closed the case “before thoroughly investigating the allegations.”

The case involves a total of $1.15 million OZ Minerals paid to four shareholders of Shin Ha Mining, a local concern and business partner it was buying out to gain full control of a gold exploration project in Mondolkiri.

Of the total, $923,077 went to three women with relatives high up in the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, which has since been split in two.

Sok Sunnary, the mother-in-law of Electricite du Cambodge director Keo Rattanak, the ministry’s cabinet chief at the time of the joint venture in 2006, received $461,539 for her 10 percent stake. Sar Sa Um and Sok Sovanchivy each held 5 percent of Shin Ha and received $230,769. Ms. Sa Um was identified in an internal Shin Ha email as the mother-in-law of a director at the ministry’s general department of mineral resources. Ms. Sovanchivy was identified in the email as the daughter of the department’s director-general.

Both OZ Minerals and ministry officials have denied any wrongdoing.

OZ sold its Mondolkiri resources to another Australian miner, Renaissance Minerals, in 2012.

In a separate case, BHP Billiton reported last year that it, too, was cooperating with an AFP investigation into allegations that it had paid an unofficial commission to Cambodian officials. The mining company is suspected of paying officials at least $1.35 million in “tea money” in 2006 to secure a license to explore for Bauxite, also in Mondolkiri.

In March, the AFP confirmed that it was investigating yet another case involving Cambodia. It followed Australian media reports that gaming firm Tabcorp paid $200,000 to an unnamed consultancy tied to one of Mr. Hun Sen’s sisters while exploring the possibility of securing an online gaming license here.           

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