Representatives of a Vietnamese rubber firm that has been accused of contributing to the illegal deforestation of vast tracts of land in northeast Cambodia joined local CPP-aligned government officials in Ratanakkiri province on Friday to hand out rice, salt and sugar to more than 400 families.
Although an election monitor rebuked local authorities for wearing hats emblazoned with CPP logos at the ceremony, Min Srim, chief of Serei Mongkol commune in Kon Mom district, said the ceremony was not meant to garner support for the ruling party ahead of this month’s election.
“We did not appeal for villagers to vote for the Cambodian People’s Party, we just informed them that they could come to receive a donation,” Mr. Srim said. “This donation is not involved with political issues because we did not instruct them to vote for any political party.”
Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), the company that made the donations was at the center of a report by U.K.-based environmental protection group Global Witness, showing that the company’s owner, Doan Nguyen Duc, is linked to numerous shell companies that together have been awarded some 180,000 hectares of economic land concessions in Cambodia.
The report, released in May, suggests that numerous local laws have been violated by companies linked to HAGL, which has received investment from both the International Finance Corporation and Deutsche Bank.
According to Chuon Phindara, the Ratankkiri provincial monitor for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, the event was a clear violation of Cambodia’s election law, which stipulates that expenses for campaign events must be incurred by the political party or its candidates and bars civil servants from taking part in election campaigns.
“We have seen clearly that the distribution of these donations in this case was to buy the minds of voters in a way that is banned according to the law,” Mr. Phindara said, adding that a number of local authorities were wearing CPP caps as 447 families were each given 50 kg of rice, 2 kg of sugar and 2 kg of salt.
“The company [HAGL] could have given out these donations before or after the election campaign period, so why else would they choose this time?” Mr. Phindara said.
National Election Committee Secretary-General Tep Nytha said “in the case that authorities attended the donation ceremony wearing hats with political party logos it is banned under the election law.”
But after looking into the ceremony in Ratankkiri province, Mr. Nytha said that no election laws had been broken.
“I just checked with provincial authorities who confirmed that villagers were wearing hats with political logos, not the authorities,” he said.