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OCIC: The Quiet Giant

In the Chroy Changva district, the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation (OCIC) has been pumping sand from the Tonle Sap onto the nearby wetlands after receiving a 99-year lease from the government. The $3-billion real estate project, known as “Chroy Changva City, City of the Future,” has forced villagers in the surrounding area to relocate because the resultant flooding was destroying their homes. Nan Ony, a legal officer from the Housing Rights Task Force, believes that “this is a serious violation of housing rights” (Cambodia Daily, June 13th). It is not the first time this company has been involved in a disputed land issue, but who are they?

The OCIC is a private firm that has a record of financing immense development ventures. In Phnom Penh alone, it has funded the construction of major buildings in the financial sector (Canadia Bank), commercial sector (Sorya Shopping Center), and residential sector (Rose Garden Condo).

Koh Pich, known as Diamond Island in English, is a 100-hectare manmade island in the Bassac River. Eight years ago, the entire island was handed over to the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation and “will be home to more than 1,000 condominiums, hundreds of villas, two international schools, a replica of the Arc de Triomphe, a near-clone of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and one of the world’s tallest buildings” (New York Times, May 6th). The OCIC is undoubtedly one of the biggest companies in Cambodia, and yet…

If you ever feel inclined to Google the company’s name, you will find that there is a disturbing lack of literature on it. The New York Times made the same worrying observation, stating “there is no public information available about the corporation.” Even the OCIC website is just a glorified photo gallery of their building projects (http://www.ocic.com.kh/en/). So why all the secrecy?

It is important to note that OCIC has the same owner as the Canadia Bank (Phnom Penh Post, July 1st, 2010), Mr. Pung Kheav Se. In 2007, WikiLeaks—an international organization renowned for publishing confidential information—released a document titled “Cambodia’s Top Ten Tycoons”.

Number 10 on the list is our friend Pung Kheav Se. Apparently, Canadia Bank is the largest bank in the country and, as a result, he controls one-fourth of the nation’s bank deposits. He was also (as of 2007) the chairman of Cambodia’s Foreign Trade Bank and the Association of Banks in Cambodia, an advisory member of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, and a close advisor to the Prime Minister.

 An extract from the article reads as follows:

 Prime Minister Hun Sen is making efforts to bridge the gap between the political and private sector by cultivating mutually beneficial relationships with the country’s most prominent business tycoons. These business leaders contribute money to the ruling Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP) and Hun Sen can call on them to fund charities and public works projects and to attract foreign investment, achievements for which the CPP can claim credit. In return, the business tycoons enjoy the added credibility and legitimacy of having the Prime Minister’s support. These symbiotic relationships illustrate the networks of business tycoons, political figures, and government officials that have formed in Cambodia, which reinforce the culture of impunity and limit progress on reforms such as Hun Sen’s self-declared “war on corruption.”  (WikiLeaks, August 9th, 2007)

Another interesting fact from the WikiLeaks document is that most of the people on the list serve on the board of the Cambodian Red Cross. The president of the Cambodian Red Cross also happens to be Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany. It is comforting to know that Cambodia’s business leaders all have charity in their hearts.