Prime Minister Hun Sen’s children took to Facebook on Thursday with sarcasm and denials in reaction to a new report by Global Witness accusing the first family of using its political connections to amass a sprawling business empire rife with legal abuses.
By mining the Commerce Ministry’s public corporate filings, the London-based anti-corruption group found 21 family members—from Mr. Hun Sen’s siblings and scions to nephews and nieces and their spouses—owning or investing in 114 companies with a combined capital of more than $200 million.
“Hostile Takeover,” released on Thursday, says the list is the “tip of the iceberg,” with other interests likely hidden behind layers of shell companies. It notes the listed companies’ business deals with major international brands including Apple and General Electric and warns foreign companies of falling foul of anti-corruption laws at home should they partner up.
On Wednesday, Mr. Hun Sen’s youngest son, Hun Many, a lawmaker, declined to discuss the report over the telephone. The prime minister’s middle son, Hun Manith, director of the Defense Ministry’s military intelligence unit, did not reply to a request for comment.
On Thursday, however, Mr. Hun Sen’s children broke their silence with posts on Facebook deriding the report and the local newspapers that published articles about it.
Hun Mana, the prime minister’s eldest daughter, and the family’s reigning businesswoman according to the public filings, accused Global Witness of seeking to hobble her father in upcoming elections and of conspiring with The Cambodia Daily and The Phnom Penh Post.
“We should thank you for your destructive efforts, which as a consequence will help my father in the coming election as they are all lies and deceitful to confuse the public about what my father has accomplished,” she wrote in a post on her Facebook page.
“I hope Global Witness, The Phnom Penh Post and The Cambodia Daily will be liable for the information in the newspapers. It clearly showed collusion among the three organizations to publish the articles at the same time in an attempt to attack my family. Please go ahead and continue your work if you have nothing else to do.”
Global Witness has over the years published a number of reports exposing rampant corruption within the Cambodian government, often tethered to some of Mr. Hun Sen’s closest associates. The exposure saw the group’s staff kicked out of the country in 2005 and some of its past reports officially banned.
Taking on the latest report on Thursday, the prime minister’s eldest son, Hun Manet, who holds multiple senior military positions including deputy chair of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Joint Staff, used his own Facebook page to pick up on his sister’s themes.
“Whenever it is close to an election, an organization called Global Witness comes up with very colorful accusations aimed at attacking the government and, in particular, making personal attacks on my father. It is that time again,” he said.
“Through its coordination with The Cambodia Daily and The Phnom Penh Post, it has expanded the scope of its accusations, targeting not only my father but the whole family, and no one can escape. So what is next?”
Lieutenant General Manith said the report and the articles were full of mistakes.
“This is a very well coordinated attack on the Hun family by Global Witness, The Cambodia Daily and The Phnom Penh Post,” he said. “As usual, full of mistakes and false information. The single purpose of the report and the articles is to disparage and defame the Hun family with false information.”
Lt. Gen. Manith did not explain what the mistakes were and did not reply to a new request for comment.
Mr. Hun Sen did not address the Global Witness report directly but shared his children’s posts on his own Facebook page, along with photographs of the family making a toast with Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong and Sok Puthyvuth, the husband of his daughter Hun Maly and the son of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.
“Today, my sons and daughters showcased their abilities on the social network Facebook,” he wrote in a message.
Perhaps the most blatant example of legal abuse pointed out by Global Witness is Lt. Gen. Manith’s position as a director of Cambodia Electricity Private, which sells to state energy provider Electricite du Cambodge. The Law on the General Statute of Military Personnel bars military men and women from sitting on a company’s board of directors.
Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said on Thursday that he would reply to a request for comment on the apparent legal breach but failed to do so by press time.
The Commerce Ministry and the Council for the Development of Cambodia, which regulates foreign investments, have ignored repeated requests for comment about the Global Witness report.