Cambodian Government Pays Over $2 Millions to Lobby Firms in D.C

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman meets with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 1, 2021. Photo by U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh

Washington D.C. — A filing with the justice department in Washington D.C. on January 21, 2022 showed that the Cambodian government has hired an American law firm to lobby US government officials and policymakers for a price tag of $60,000 a month to a total of $720,000 from January 1, 2022 – to January 1, 2023. According to the filing obtained by Khmer Post USA, the agreement was signed between the Cambodian Embassy and the Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP which indicated that the firm will conduct political activities on behalf of the Cambodian government including “conduct outreach to U.S. government officials to build better understanding and highlight areas of common interest to build new relationships that will help to move the bilateral relationship between Cambodia and the U.S. forward.” Additionally, Qorvis LLC, another lobby firm, is also on the Cambodian government payroll for $69,300 a month to provide strategic communication on behalf of the government with US media, regarding so called “travel and tourism” in Cambodia since September.

The hiring of lobby firms came after the US imposed an arms embargo and export restrictions on Cambodia in December over serious concerns about China’s military presence and the construction of a Chinese naval base in Ream Port (Gulf of Thailand), and over human rights and corruption. The 1991 Paris Peace Agreement stated that no foreign military force is allowed inside Cambodia. Hence, this would be an act of violation of Cambodia sovereignty which threatens regional security.

Economically, Cambodia relies heavily on the United States for its export. According the 2020 United Nations COMTRADE database, the US imported $5.33 billions of goods or 30% of its total export, the second largest export was to Singapore for $2.63 billions or 15%, third is China for $1.09 billion, or 6.2%.

In 2017, the United States President signed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act into law which allowed the US government to place economic sanctions toward individuals or companies outside of the United States that committed serious human rights abuses and corruptions, and undermine democracy. The law also helps protect the financial system of the United States from abuse by these same persons.

The US government have applied the Global Magnitsky Act on two Cambodian officials Try Pheap and Kun Kim, the companies they owned and their family networks, totaling 15 companies which include oil, construction, import and export, travel, rubber plantation, private security force, which have committed serious human right abuses and corruptions. Recently, two Cambodian military officials Chao Phirun, Director General of the Ministry of National Defense and Tea Vinh, Commander of the Navy also have been sanctioned. Both were involved in serious corruptions.

Cambodia has become a one-party state in 2018 after illegally dissolving the opposition party CNRP in 2017, ousted 55 elected member of parliaments and 5,007 commune councilors. Since then, Cambodia’s relationship with the United States has been rocky as the regime continued its crackdown on rights defenders, activists, journalist, and political opposition. The United States congress has repeatedly raised concerns over the human rights abuses and the deteriorating democracy in Cambodia by passing the “Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019” and Cambodia Trade Act of 2019” in attempt to put pressure on the Cambodian government to respect human rights and allow free and fair election.

Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman met with the premier in June and urged the Cambodian government to follow its commitments toward international and domestic human rights, and to reopen civic and political space in advance of the 2022 commune and 2023 national elections. However, the opposition party CNRP president Kem Sokha is still prohibited from participating in political activities since his arrest prior to the national election in 2018. Over 100 CNRP members, rights defenders, and activists were arbitrarily detained.  Former CNRP President Sam Rainsy is still in exile and many CNRP elected parliament members are still not allowed to return to Cambodia.

The Cambodia government hired Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and PacRim Bridges for $1.2 million to lobby the US government and congress after it organized an election without the opposition party that was widely criticized as a “fake” election in 2018. Since then, Hun Sen took complete control of the government branches and made it a one-party state, clearing the way for his son to be the next Prime Minister without opposition.