A Reuters investigation into Hun Sen, Cambodia’s long-ruling prime minister reveals family members and key police, business and political associates have overseas assets worth tens of millions of dollars, and have used their wealth to buy foreign citizenship. Among those who have acquired or applied for European Union passports through a citizenship for sale arrangement in Cyprus are: Hun Sen’s niece and her husband, who is Cambodia’s national police chief; the country’s most powerful business couple, who are old family friends; and the finance minister, a long-time Hun Sen adviser. Photos on social media also show Hun Sen’s relatives enjoying luxurious European lifestyles – boating in Capri, skiing in Verbier, partying in Ibiza. Hun Panhaboth, the son of a niece, defended his lifestyle in messages sent to Reuters through Facebook. An Instagram photo shows him driving a Mercedes while holding a fistful of banknotes. “I really don’t see the harm in that anyways,” he said.
Another Cambodian with overseas assets is the prime minister’s niece, Hun Kimleng. Photos posted on Instagram by a family nanny helped lead Reuters to a posh apartment in central London, situated only a few hundred metres from the palace of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Hun Kimleng bought the apartment in 2010 for £1.95 million ($2.5 million), according to official property records. It could now be worth at least £3.5 million, estimates the real estate website Zoopla. She also owns a multi-million-dollar apartment in a luxury condo in Singapore, according to the Singapore Land Authority.
Hun Sen is 67 and has ruled Cambodia with an iron fist for more than three decades. He has jailed or exiled political rivals, shut down media outlets and crushed street protests. Only three men have controlled their countries for longer: the presidents of Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo. If Hun Sen stepped down tomorrow, Vladimir Putin would have to rule Russia for another 15 years to match his time in power. In February, responding to Hun Sen's crackdown on unrest, the European Union began a process that could suspend Cambodia’s special trade preferences, potentially damaging industries that employ hundreds of thousands of workers. The country’s political and business elite is on edge, a government insider told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Neth Savoeun is Cambodia’s powerful national police chief, presiding over a force responsible for arresting Hun Sen’s political opponents and violently suppressing anti-government protests. Last year, Human Rights Watch named him as one of 12 generals who form “the backbone of an abusive and authoritarian political regime.” The Cambodian defense ministry called the report “fabricated.” Neth Savoeun is also a senior member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
For some members of Cambodia’s elite, Cypriot passports are trappings of luxurious lifestyles. Wealth is a touchy subject in Cambodia. The Asian Development Bank estimates that 70% of people live on about $3 a day. Yet many relatives with the Hun family name flaunt their wealth on social media accounts. One photo on Instagram shows two of the prime minister’s nieces, Hun Kimleng and Hun Chantha, posing in ballgowns and matching golden necklaces. Other photos document their near-constant travel, often by private jet, to fashion shows in Paris, a hillside villa in Mykonos, and London nightclubs like Loulou’s. Hun Chantha also co-owns London apartments worth £5 million, property records show. Hun Panhaboth, the son of another niece, gave his girlfriend a Mercedes-Benz for her birthday. Instagram showed some relatives feasting on caviar in London. Among them was Hun Kimleng’s wealthy young daughter, Vichhuna Neth. She applied for Cypriot citizenship in November 2017. Four months later, she posted photos and videos on Instagram from western Cyprus. They show her driving a dune buggy along a coastal road and reclining in an open-air jacuzzi at a luxury villa.
Hun Kimleng | the prime minister’s niece. She owns multi-million-dollar properties in London and Singapore, and obtained Cypriot citizenship in 2016.
Neth Savoeun | Hun Kimleng’s husband and Cambodia’s national police chief. He sought Cypriot citizenship along with two of his daughters in 2017.
Vichhuna Neth | one of those daughters. She sought citizenship on the grounds she was “financially dependent” on her mother, despite having spent £5.5 million on a London apartment.
Choeung Sopheap | A powerful businesswoman and close friend of the prime minister’s wife. She invested at least €2 million in a Radisson Blu hotel in Cyprus in 2017 and got citizenship the same year.
Lau Ming Kan | Choeung Sopheap’s husband and a senator in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. He and five other family members also sought Cypriot citizenship in 2016 and 2017.
Aun Pornmoniroth | Hun Sen’s longtime financial adviser and current finance minister. He sought Cypriot citizenship in 2017.
Im Paulika | Aun Pornmoniroth’s wife. She invested €2 million in a Radisson Blu hotel in Cyprus in 2017 and obtained Cypriot citizenship the same year.
Hun Chantha | Another of the prime minister’s nieces. She co-owns London properties worth millions of dollars and takes private jets to posh European resorts.