Little-Known NGOs Defend Minister’s Wife

Four little-known NGOs have come to the defense of Tep Bo­pha Prasidh, the wife of Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh, stating that they do not believe the minister’s wife is a shareholder in Att­wood—the company awarded a government concession to operate one of the country’s first tax-free in­dustrial export zones.

In a statement this week, staff  of the four NGOs, who belong to the Cambodia Women’s Federation for Peace and Development Or­ga­ni­­za­­tion, said there was no evidence that Tep Bopha Prasidh, who is al­so the commerce minis­try’s dir­ec­tor of administration, is a sharehol­der in the company.

“We all would like to deny this point because with no clear information base, [it is] untrue [and] it may cause effects to the company and especially affect the honor of Tep Bopha Prasidh,” the statement said.

The statement was also signed by 12 orphans who live at an or­phan­age run by one of the NGOs

—Light Development Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Most Vul­ner­a­ble Peo­ple—which is funded by Att­wood, Director Tompen Virak­vitou said on Wednesday.

“I know in my heart” that Tep Bopha Prasidh is not a shareholder in the company, said Tompen Virakvitou, who also works at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy.

“I asked Attwood. They don’t know about Mrs Tep Bopha Pra­sidh,” he added.

Last week, Attwood marketing manager David Sim said that Tep Bopha Prasidh was an investor in the company and that it had been granted the concession to develop the tax-free industrial zone in Si­ha­noukville.

The zone will be one of the first such concessions in the country and is expected to attract foreign companies and investors with special tax exemptions.

According to a copy of the Council of Ministers Sub-Decree No 50 obtained Wednesday, a concession to operate a tax-free industrial zone in Sihanoukville’s Stung Haw district was awarded to Att­wood Investment Group on March 25 and was signed by Cham Prasidh and Prime Minis­ter Hun Sen.

A letter from the Commerce Min­­istry to Attwood Managing Dir­ector Lim Chhiv Ho, dated July 31, 2003, states that Tep Bopha Pra­sidh’s shares were worth $1 million at the time.

The July 31, 2003 issue of the Ministry of Com­merce’s  bi-weekly bulletin, “Week­ly Business Round­up,” stated that Tep Bo­pha Prasidh became an Att­wood shareholder on July 2, 2003.

Attempts to ascertain whether Tep Bopha Prasidh has disposed of her shares were unsuccessful this week.

Contacted by telephone on Wed­nesday, Cham Prasidh de­clined to comment.

At the Commerce Ministry on Thursday, administrative staff said that Tep Bopha Prasidh was not at work and would not give out a telephone contact number.

Tep Bopha Pradish’s daughter, Cham Nimol, who works as a Ca­binet chief at the Commerce Min­istry, also de­clined to be interview­ed when contacted by phone.

Repeated telephone calls to  Lim Chhiv Ho went unanswered on Tues­day, Wednesday and Thurs­day.

The Ministry of Commerce, which is charged with boosting Cambodia’s exports, has been key in the adoption of industrial zones giving export-oriented factories generous import tax breaks.

A 2003 study funded by the Ja­pan­ese International Cooper­a­tion Agen­cy on developing zones near Si­hanoukville was overseen by Team Leader Cham Prasidh, ac­cor­ding to JICA’s report summary.

The study’s executive summary recommends that investors in zones be chosen by a national zone authority.

A pending draft Law on Special Economic Zones, available on the Commerce Ministry’s Export Pro­mo­tion Department Web site, would require that investors be cho­sen by an authority called the Economic Zones Authority of Cam­­bodia.

Secretaries of state or other se­nior officials from the commerce, fi­nance, and mines and energy min­istries will sit on the EZAC.

The current draft law’s article 23 states that members of the zone au­thority “shall not, during their tenure, directly or indirectly, practice any profession, participate in any business, or be financially in­terested in any contract with, or in any franchise, or special privilege granted by the [authority] or the Royal Government of Cambodia.”

    (Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann)

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