The mercury-tainted waste shipped to Sihanoukville last month was not the first consignment of toxic trash foreigners have tried to dump in Cambodia, Finance Minister Keat Chhon said Tuesday.
Several times in the past, foreigners have approached the government seeking permission to bring waste to Cambodia, he said, reiterating a statement made Saturday by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“Different people and different companies talked to the government about waste. One group wanted to pay the government to build a power plant which used [toxic] waste…but we refused,” Keat Chhon told reporters outside the National Assembly.
The suspected toxic waste dumping in Sihanoukville was the result of a Taiwanese company, Formosa Plastic, colluding with Cambodian officials who accepted bribes, the finance minister charged.
On Tuesday, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of the National Assembly, said Prime Minister Hun Sen told him a preliminary investigation suggested the company could have paid a bribe worth $3 million to officials.
“I have written to Hun Sen stating that the government must submit a written explanation,” the prince said.
For its part, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party hoped “to see real results coming from the current [political] posturing of the government,” according to a statement.
Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng vowed Tuesday at Chaktomuk Theater that all government officials involved in the scandal will face legal action. Keat Chhon said the officials involved will be tried as criminals, with the Ministry of Environment going to to court as the plaintiff.
Sar Kheng said work will begin today to pack all 3,000 tons of the waste in containers in preparation for its return to Taiwan.
“To assuage people’s fears, the waste must be shipped back as soon as possible,” said Sar Kheng, who had appeared on national television Monday, appealing for Cambodians to remain calm.
However, the action is beset by diplomatic complications, Agence France-Presse has reported.
Hun Sen said Saturday that because he viewed Taiwan as a “province of China,” he had appealed through Beijing for the return of the waste. China immediately agreed, he said, even though Taipei had refused to take it back.
China views Taiwan as a renegade province since the defeated Nationalist government fled there in 1949 after the Communists won a bitter civil war.
Keat Chhon said the toxic waste debacle ultimately will serve as a good lesson to Cambodia on international politics.
“There are bad people on the international stage. It’s a learning experience for the country,” Keat Chhon said.