National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh denied on Tuesday that he had any connection to a multimillion dollar slush fund reportedly located in Singaporean banks, highlighting months-long rumors that a handful of top Cambodian officials are keeping large amounts of money in the island nation.
Local newspapers have reported in recent months that $800 million has been discovered in the accounts of some 26 powerful Cambodians in Singapore—an international banking center.
Earlier this month, leading Khmer-language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea, generally seen as closely aligned to the CPP, made the $800 million bank accounts a front-page story.
Returning from a trip to France, Prince Ranariddh denied links to the accounts, adding if such money existed, his party would not be in such dire financial straits ahead of next year’s elections.
“I don’t have much money deposited in that bank, as alleged by some people. People can check my account,” Prince Ranariddh told reporters at Pochentong Airport.
“We are poor and can hardly find money to run the Funcinpec party well [for the election],” he said.
Nhem Vanthorn, director of the Khmer Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Organization, confirmed on Wednesday his earlier claims that US investigators discovered the accounts in the names of the wives of high-ranking Cambodian officials.
The majority of the money was likely connected to corruption and only a small amount of it was clean, Rasmei Kampuchea quoted Nhem Vanthorn as saying earlier this month.
However, on Wednesday, Nhem Vanthorn denied naming Prince Ranariddh or any other bank account holders.
Nhem Vanthorn said he suspects the names of particular high-ranking officials have been added to the story to gain political mileage from what are potentially very embarrassing rumors about wealth and privilege in one of the poorest countries in the world.
“The 26 accounts—until this day—have been divided into 120 sub-accounts. In the sub-accounts they have put under names of import-export and other companies,” Nhem Vanthorn said.
Nhem Vanthorn said he has no documents to support any of his claims and is worried, at the very least, about a legal backlash from those linked by others as possible account holders.
According to Nhem Vanthorn, the existence of multimillion dollar bank accounts, initially held under 26 Cambodian names, was revealed to him early last year while attending a regional anti-corruption seminar in Singapore.
Officials at Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau disclosed the information, Nhem Vanthorn said.
CPP Parliamentarian Cheam Yeap, chairman of the National Assembly’s finance and banking committee denied the reports on Wednesday.
“I don’t believe government officials have such large amounts of money in Singapore banks. If they have, it is only a small amount, not a large amount,” he said.
Regarding a investigation of the reports, Cheam Yeap said, “I don’t want to say anything as the government officials have denied about this already.”
While information was known about the accounts in Singapore, it was not until after the Sept 11 suicide attacks on New York and Washington that the Cambodian accounts came under scrutiny by US investigators, who came across the money while undertaking a world-wide hunt for funds linked to Osama bin Laden, Nhem Vanthorn said.
Although the Singaporean sources are unwilling to part yet with documentary proof, Nhem Vanthorn said he has been promised support if he is targeted for arrest or legal action because of the bank account revelations.
“They will not give me the documents yet because they are concerned about the effects from the Cambodian police and about my safety,” he said. “But I will get [the documents] if someone complains to the court against me.”
Nhem Vanthorn said he was in contact with Singapore to study if the Cambodian accounts can be frozen to prevent the money being moved further off shore, and he has received information that US investigators will travel to Cambodia to investigate the issue further.
“We wonder if Singapore can block those accounts so that we can take back some of that money to our country,” he said.
Both US and Singaporean diplomats in Phnom Penh have denied any knowledge of the Cambodian account investigation.
Rubbishing Nhem Vanthorn’s claims, a Singaporean diplomat said last week that his country’s vast banking sector has sophisticated checks-and-balances to spot money laundering operations.
A US diplomat said he was unaware of any investigation into Cambodian accounts in Singapore or any impending visit by agents to investigate the holders of the rumored accounts.
(Reporting by Lor Chandara, Kuch Naren, Phann Ana and Kevin Doyle)