The government earlier this year appointed Sok Khavan, the nephew of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, to the position of director-general of the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority (CNPA), Cambodia’s top institution in regulating the exploration and extraction of oil and gas.
An administrative official at the CNPA who declined to give his name said Mr. Khavan had taken over from the former director-general, Te Duong Dara, in January. CNPA Documents were also witnessed at the offices of the CNPA on Thursday bearing the signature of Mr. Khavan alongside his new title.
Mr. Khavan is the son of Mr. An’s younger brother, Sok Pheng, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Health. Mr. Pheng is also running as a CPP candidate for this month’s parliamentary election alongside Sok Sokhan, 30, the son of Mr. An.
In attaining the top position at Cambodia’s oil and gas regulator, Mr. Khavan joins Diep Sareiviseth, another of Mr. An’s nephews, who is the CNPA’s deputy director-general.
“Sok Khavan was appointed acting director-general last year and it was made official in January this year,” said the administrative official working at the CNPA’s offices on Russian Boulevard.
Mr. Khavan, who appears to be in his late 20s or early 30s and bears a strong resemblance to his uncle, is also a partner at the Sok & Heng law firm in Phnom Penh. He is also deputy secretary-general of the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia and a member of the Council of Jurists inside the Council of Ministers.
According to the firm’s website, Mr. Khavan obtained a law degree from Saint Louis University in the U.S. in 2006.
“Specializing in international business and corporate transaction, he has been dealing with major financial institutions and international corporations on behalf of many respectful government and non-government institutions,” the law firm’s website states of Mr. Khavan.
Mr. Khavan could not be reached for comment, and is currently abroad in Greece.
Mr. Duong Dara, who stepped down from his position in 2011 and has since opened a strawberry farm in Mondolkiri province, said the appointment was the decision of Prime Minister Hun Sen and Mr. An.
“You can ask Sok Khavan because he is a relative of Sok An. You should ask him, it’s better than me because I did not make that decision. It’s the decision of the prime minister and Sok An,” Mr. Duong Dara said.
The CNPA has long been criticized for its lack of transparency.
In 2011, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) reported that the body restricted key information and failed to cooperate with consultants from the ADB as part of a $1 million project aimed at strengthening governance at the body.
“The Management of the Executing Agency showed a marked lack of cooperation with the consulting firm to the point of restricting vital information and failing to encourage wider CNPA staff participation in the program,” the report says.
In 2009, London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness said that Mr. Duong Dara had maintained a “vice-like grip on information” at the CNPA, and had recruited “his own pool of loyal staff from other ministries, bypassing the trained staff within the CNPA, and by keeping documents in his own home, rather than the office.”
A source with direct knowledge of the workings of the CNPA said Mr. Khavan’s appointment would improve the government body.
“He is in my opinion the right man for the job: young, keen, intelligent, hard working and steadfast to political and national requirements,” the source said of Mr. An’s nephew.
Transparency advocates have long called for more openness in how the government deals with the oil and gas sectors, and Mr. Khavan takes over the CNPA as U.S. oil giant Chevron Corp.’s project in Cambodia faces continued delays due to stalled negotiations over how much Chevron will be taxed on income and whether it will have to pay a tax on dividend payments to shareholders.
After mounting pressure on the government to reveal more public information on the extractive industries, Mr. An in 2010 released a detailed statement of the government’s handling of oil, gas and mining payments from private firms.
Mr. An said at the time that the government had granted exploration licenses to a total of 23 oil and gas companies. However, the opposition party said the answers provided by Mr. An were inadequate and that the government had failed to explain how it has managed state resources and the funds it had generated from those resources.
CNPA deputy director-general Mr. Sareiviseth declined to answer questions on the appointment of his cousin as director-general, referring questions to Men Den, a spokesman and director at the CNPA.
Contacted on Thursday, Mr. Den declined to comment.
Mr. Khavan’s new job continues the trend of senior government officials appointing and nominating their sons and other relatives to senior government positions.
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong’s sons, Hor Nambora and Hor Monirath, are Cambodia’s ambassadors to the U.K. and Japan respectively.
For the upcoming national election, several children of senior leaders will be standing for the ruling party—including Hun Many, the 31-year-old son of Mr. Hun Sen, who is running for a seat in Kompong Speu province—while Sar Sokha, 32, Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s son, will be standing for election in Prey Veng province.
Other CPP candidates include Say Sam Al, the 33-year-old son of CPP Senate First Deputy President Say Chhum; and Dith Tyna, 33, the son of CPP Supreme Court President Dith Munthy.
Dy Vichea, 32, the son of the CPP’s late National Police chief Hok Lundy and husband of Mr. Hun Sen’s daughter Hun Mana, will also stand as a reserve election candidate in Svay Rieng province.
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana and Phorn Bopha)