U.S. blacklists two Cambodian officials over alleged naval base corruption

Sailors stand guard at the Cambodian Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

The United States on Wednesday blacklisted two Cambodian officials, accusing them of planning to profit from construction work at Cambodia’s biggest naval base, where Washington has expressed concern about China’s military presence.

The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement said it slapped sanctions on Cambodia’s navy commander, Tea Vinh, and on Chau Phirun, the director-general of the Defense Ministry’s Material and Technical Services Department, accusing the two of planning to share funds skimmed from the Ream naval base project.

The sanctions freeze any of their U.S. assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.

“The United States will not stand by while corrupt officials personally benefit at the expense of the Cambodian people,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

A year ago, Cambodia said it had razed a U.S.-funded facility at the Ream naval base to allow for further expansion. The United States said Cambodia had a year earlier turned down its offer to repair the base.

The United States last month accused Cambodia of lacking transparency about Chinese construction activities at the Ream naval base, and urged the government to disclose to its people the full scope of Beijing’s military involvement.

The Treasury statement on Wednesday did not mention China’s involvement with the base.

Cambodia’s ties with the United States have frayed in recent years over U.S. allegations its ruling party is persecuting its opponents, and concerns about China’s growing influence.

Cambodia has moved closer to China to become one of its most important allies in Southeast Asia, at a time when Washington has been seeking to counter Beijing’s growing influence in the region.

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