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)