The head of the US State Department’s anti-human trafficking office has disclosed that Cambodian National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy was denied a visa to visit the US late last year due to allegations linking him to human trafficking. The Cambodian government said there is no evidence to support the allegations and warned that the affair could damage Cambodia’s cooperation with the US on security issues.
Ambassador John Miller, director of the US State Department’s office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, made the claims in a telephone interview from the US on Feb 9.
“I can certainly say that the United States government felt there were sufficient reports and allegations concerning his role in trafficking in persons to justify the [visa] denial,” Miller said of Hok Lundy.
Miller said he believed Hok Lundy had been hoping to visit a sheriff’s conference in the US when the visa was denied. He added that he was uncertain exactly when this occurred, but according to the US Department of Homeland Security’s Web site, the 112th annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference was held in Miami, Florida, in late September.
Hok Lundy declined comment on Miller’s allegations when contacted by telephone in mid-February, and referred questions to co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and then-co-Minister of Interior Prince Norodom Sirivudh.
Sar Kheng did not reply to a written request for comment, but issued a statement on Monday through Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak. “The DPM [Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng] said it is not necessary to respond to the allegations,” Khieu Sopheak said by telephone.
Prince Sirivudh, who was removed from his position Thursday, did not reply to a written request for comment that was submitted to Funcinpec headquarters on Feb 16.
US Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli said in an interview on Feb 15 that he was unable to comment on individual US visa applications, which he said would be illegal, but noted that Hok Lundy has cooperated well with the embassy on both anti-trafficking and counter-narcotics.
“There’s all sorts of allegations against all kinds of officials, but allegations are not hard proof,” Mussomeli said.
“I have found [Hok Lundy] to be very cooperative on a broad range of issues, including trafficking in persons, including drug trafficking,” and protection of the embassy, Mussomeli added.
There may be a disparity between the embassy’s position and Miller’s in Washington due to the fact that embassy officials operate in Phnom Penh and see the situation more closely and clearly, he said.
The embassy has no credible evidence linking Hok Lundy to human trafficking, he added.
“This is not a court of law, but if…we were convinced that he was involved in human trafficking, I would feel compelled to raise it at the highest levels of the [Cambodian] government,” he said. “All I can really say is that my understanding is that the discussion of visa applications is always inappropriate and [a] contravention to US law. That’s the bottom line.”
Despite the incident, Mussomeli said he was not concerned about damage being done to the relationship between the US and Cambodia, as he believed Prime Minister Hun Sen and Hok Lundy were firmly committed to security cooperation with the US, regardless of allegations made by an individual. “They’re too professional to let that interfere with their cooperation with us,” he said.
Miller did not respond to e-mailed questions about Mussomeli’s comments.
Asked during the Feb 9 interview whether the visa denial was prompted by human trafficking that merely occurred during Hok Lundy’s tenure as police chief or by allegations of actual involvement, Miller said he thought both factors came into play. But he added: “Obviously when it gets to a visa we’re talking about the latter.”
“We want to see an effort to prosecute major players, what we call the big fish in the trafficking in persons scene in Cambodia, whether they are traffickers or law enforcement officials,” he said.
In an interview on Jan 18, 2005, Miller said that Hok Lundy appeared to have ordered the release of eight suspects arrested following an anti-trafficking police raid on the Chai Hour II Hotel the previous month.
The police and the anti-trafficking NGO Afesip raided the hotel on Dec 7, 2004, removed 83 women and girls and took them to an Afesip shelter. The next day the shelter was raided by a group of men and the women and children were removed. In the wake of the scandal, Cambodia was downgraded to the bottom tier of the US government’s anti-trafficking global watch list; subsequent sanctions came into effect on Oct 1.
Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith, who dismissed Miller’s initial allegation against Hok Lundy in 2005, called the latest allegations unfounded and “very counterproductive.”
“Up to now we don’t have any proof to say he’s involved,” Khieu Kanharith said by telephone on Feb 10, adding that he did not believe human trafficking was worse in Cambodia than in any other country in the region.
“Usually America has to cooperate with us on security and everything and burning bridges is not a smart move,” he said, before referring further questions to Hok Lundy’s cabinet.
Explaining the visa selection process, US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said that decisions are always made by the US State Department. However, agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security can put information into the State Department’s system stating that someone is ineligible or potentially ineligible to receive a visa, Daigle said.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)