Governor warns that Chinese investments bring organised crime and instability

A steady flow of capital has led to a boom in Sihanoukville with new hotels, casinos and housing. Although the authorities have tried to allay fears and concerns, Cambodia is ranked ninth out of 146 in terms of risk on the money-laundering index.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China's growing presence and investments in the fast-developing Cambodian port and province of Sihanoukville have pushed up the crime rate and brought instability, the local governor, Yun Min, said in a letter to the government.

The two Asian nations have close political, economic and military ties. It is thus rare to hear someone in Cambodia voice criticism of China's heavy involvement and important investments in the country’s thriving economy.

Beijing's support has boosted Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen following criticism at the banning of the country’s main opposition party ahead of upcoming elections.

Preah Sihanoukville province in the south-west has seen a construction boom in recent years supported by a steady stream of Chinese money into building hotels, casinos and thousands of housing units.

In his three-page letter to the Interior minister, Governor Yun Min warned that the Chinese influx had "created opportunities for Chinese mafia to come in and commit various crimes and kidnap Chinese investors, causing insecurity in the province".

Whilst acknowledging that Chinese investment had created jobs and pushed up real estate prices in the province, Yun Min also complained about drunk Chinese getting into fights in restaurants and about rising hotel prices as a result of Chinese interest in Sihanoukville.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak said he had not yet seen the letter but noted that Cambodia would not be controlled by the Chinese. "We still keep our sovereignty; the Chinese can't control us. If they come as proper investors and respect our laws, it's fine," he explained.

For its part, the Cambodian government has tried to allay fears and downplay concerns raised by international media about Chinese investors laundering money from criminal activities through the Cambodian real estate market.

A spokesman for Cambodia's Foreign Ministry recently called reports to that effect "baseless".

Yet, some analysts warn that rampant corruption, the lack of government transparency, and loose banking regulations make money laundering easier.

In fact, Cambodia is among the most vulnerable countries in the world in terms of money laundering, this according to the Basel-based Anti-Money Laundering (AML) index, which aggregates data from 17 different sources – including the World Bank, World Economic Forum and the Financial Action Task Force – to assess risk.

Out of 146 countries, Cambodia ranks 9th for risk of becoming a hotspot for money laundering, after Uganda and before Tanzania.