April 12, 2011

$96m suit over mine


AN adviser to the head of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit faces a US$96 million lawsuit for allegedly defrauding a Chinese mining company in a joint venture project, a lawyer for the Chinese firm said.

Officials from China’s Hong Tung Resource plan to submit an official complaint to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court this week against owners of the Nim Meng Group Company Limited, said Kouy Thunna, lawyer for Hong Tung Resource head Cheng Tung Ko. Among the targets of the complaint is Nim Meng, a general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and adviser to Him Bun Heang, the head of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, Kouy Thunna said.

“I will file a complaint to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against Nim Meng and his wife, Mrs Lay Sineang, who are members of the Board of Directors of Nim Meng Sinohope Group Company, and also Director of the Nim Meng Group, which has broke its agreement with my client’s company,” Kouy Thunna said. Hong Tung Resource plans to seek some $87 million in damages in relation to imported mining equipment seized by Nim Meng Group, $6 million in compensation, and $3 million in loans that were never repaid, he added.

The case highlights concerns over what rights groups say is the loosely regulated nature of extractive industries in the Kingdom, where well-connected political and military officials often control lucrative concessions.

“Over many years, we’ve documented how both political but also military elites have been involved in the exploitation of natural resources,” said George Boden, a campaigner with the watchdog group Global Witness.

“In an environment where there are other players who need to be brought into the process, as it were, and where there is a lack of clarity over contracts and terms or whatever, I think it’s fair to say that it can be a problematic business environment.”

Hong Tung and Nim Meng Group began working together in July last year and have since exported nearly 3,500 tonnes of copper though the Ream military port using Cambodian naval vessels, Kouy Thunna said. The firms formalised their joint venture partnership in January this year, he added, before Nim Meng Group abruptly cancelled the partnership on February 23.

Nim Meng could not be reached for comment, though Nim Meng Group general manager Nim Thy said yesterday that the partnership had in fact been cancelled because Hong Tung Resource and Cheng Tung Ko, a Taiwanese national, had not respected the agreement.

“We decided to cancel an agreement with this [firm] because the Taiwanese businessman has attempted to defraud us,” he said.

“This Chinese company has cheated us for the mining business in Cambodia. After they received a business license from Nim Meng Group, they tried to sell it to other Chinese business companies in China.”
Hong Tung Resource also failed to provide loans for the project that it had originally promised, Nim Thy added.

A draft copy of the complaint obtained by The Post alleges that following the cancellation of the joint venture partnership in February, the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy transferred the licence for the concession from Nim Meng Sinohope Company, the joint venture, to Nim Meng Group.

In addition to providing equipment for the project, Hong Tung Resource contributed a $10 million cash investment to develop the venture, Kouy Thunna added.

Officials from the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy could not be reached for comment.

The webpage for the ministry’s General Department of Mineral Resources lists Nim Meng Group Company as holder of a concession in Chi Kraeng district of Siem Reap province.

Boden said the widespread involvement of senior officials in the extractive industries would continue to pose a hurdle to the imposition of a clear legal framework within the sector.

“What we’ve seen is senior senators and senior government officials and senior military figures … appear to be getting concessions, and not in transparent ways,” he said.

“There is a very fragmented, unclear, and untransparent process.”

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