U.S. Sanctions Cambodian Officials for Skimming Naval Base Funds

U.S. and Cambodian officials tour a new pier at Ream Naval Base, 2015 (USN)

Published Nov 10, 2021 9:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on a group of Cambodian defense officials for corruption in connection with the construction of a U.S.-funded naval base. 

According to the Treasury, two top Cambodian officials - Chau Phirun, Director-General of the Cambodian Defense Ministry’s Material and Technical Services Department, and Tea Vinh, the head of the Royal Cambodian Navy - "likely conspired to inflate the cost of facilities" at the U.S.-funded Ream Naval Base project, then split the proceeds between them. 

The sanctions designation means that Chau, Tea and their families will no longer be able to enter the United States or conduct financial transactions with U.S. persons. All of their assets within U.S. jurisdiction will be blocked. 

“The United States will not stand by while corrupt officials personally benefit at the expense of the Cambodian people,” said Office of Foreign Assets Control Director Andrea M. Gacki. “This administration will continue to prioritize anti-corruption efforts and work tirelessly to promote accountability.”

The move comes after top U.S. diplomats complained about an increasing Chinese presence at the base. China is funding the construction of additional facilities at Ream, and in June, despite protests from U.S. embassy staff, Cambodian officials refused to give a U.S. defense attache full access to the site. 

Work at the site is still under way. According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a Washington-based research group, satellite imaging shows that Chinese-funded construction crews have put up three new buildings and cleared a new road at Ream within the last four months. 

China is the leading foreign donor to the government of longtime Cambodian leader Hun Sen, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has described the nation as "China's iron-clad friend and friendly neighbor." The Chinese government maintains that its relationship with Cambodia creates "positive contributions to regional peace and stability."