S Reap Miner Accused of Illegal Exports

A Chinese mining company yesterday accused its RCAF-affiliated partner in Siem Reap pro­vince of illegally exporting copper ore through a Preah Siha­nouk pro­vince naval base.

A lawyer for the partner de­clined to respond to the allegations. The company, Nim Meng Group, has already filed its own lawsuits alleging breach of trust.

Hong Tung Resource Co Ltd of China and RCAF Major General Nim Meng agreed in December to form Nim Meng Sinohope Group Co Ltd and to develop a copper mine, according to Kouy Thunna, a lawyer representing Hong Tung Director Cheng Tungko.

But Hong Tung Resource soon discovered that Nim Meng Group, its partner, was breaking the terms of December’s agreement and perhaps also the law, according to Mr Thunna.

Mr Thunna said Hong Tung Resource would lodge complaints at Phnom Penh Municipal Court after this week’s Khmer New Year recess and that his client alleges that Nim Meng Group has used military vehicles and a naval base to export copper ore to China without a license.

Hong Tung Resource is seeking to recoup $87 million in investment as well as $6 million in compensation and $3 million in allegedly unpaid loans to Nim Meng Group.

Mr Thunna said Maj Gen Meng’s wife, Lay Sineang, had asked the court on Feb 24 to cancel the terms and conditions of its joint venture with Hong Tung Resource and transfer all exploration and extraction rights back to Nim Meng Group.

“My client has already prepared the complaint files to sue Nim Meng and his wife Lay Sineang,” Mr Thunna said.

According to government records, Suy Sem, minister of Industry, Mines and Energy, and Ms Sineang, Nim Meng Group’s director, concluded a preliminary mining agreement on Oct 27. A mining license signed Jan 28 by Mr Sem allows Nim Meng Sinhohope, the joint venture, to extract mineral resources over 36 square km in Chi Kreng district only until Oct 27 of next year.

Mr Cheng of Hong Tung Resource alleges that Nim Meng Group began exports before the license was valid.

Ms Sineang could not be reached yesterday. But Chea Sokchan, Nim Meng Group’s lawyer, said his client had already sued Hong Tung Resource, but he declined to elaborate. He also declined to respond to allegations that Nim Meng Group had exported copper ore through the naval base before it was licensed.

“I cannot comment on this case,” Mr Sokchan said.

Deputy prosecutor Hing Bunchea said Ms Sineang had filed breech of trust and fraud complaints on March 30, but he declined to provide further information.

Rear Admiral Ouk Seyha, commander of Ream Naval Base, declined to comment, referring questions to Maj Gen Nim Meng.

Environmentalists say the close relationship between investors in Cambodia’s mining sector and military do not bode well for transparency.

“Such close relationships are facilitated by the utter lack of transparency or accountability in the way in which rights to develop Cambodia’s mineral resources are allocated,” George Boden, a campaigner for the environmental watchdog Global Witness, wrote in an e-mail.

Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat, spokesman for the Defense Ministry, could not be reached. He said in February that he was unaware of the existence of a mine linked to the military in Siem Reap.

During a visit to Nim Meng Group’s mining site in February, reporters were confronted by soldiers armed with submachine guns and were immediately escorted off the premises.

Villagers said they had received no information from local officials or the company with regard to the mine and were unaware whether or not local communities stood to benefit from the mine.

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