|Suy Sem, the minister of Industry, Mines and Energy and his wife|
OZ MINERALS and the Cambodian government have been forced to deny allegations of impropriety over reports that a transaction by OZ Minerals in 2009 led to hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid to the relatives of government officials.
The news comes as the US Securities and Exchange Commission continues its investigations into Cambodian bribery allegations involving BHP Billiton.
BHP has yet to confirm or deny that the investigations relate to a $US1 million ($936,000) payment to the Cambodian government in 2006 to secure bauxite leases.
The Cambodia Daily reported yesterday that OZ Minerals bought out Shin Ha, its partner in a goldmine, in 2009. More than $US1 million of the proceeds went to three women on the partner's board, who were reportedly closely related to officials in government departments, including the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy (MIME).
The newspaper said the trio were appointed in 2006, just before Shin Ha concluded a joint venture agreement with Oxiana, headed by Owen Hegarty. The company was later named OZ Minerals after merging with Zinifex.
An OZ Minerals' spokeswoman said an investigation by the company had not found any evidence of wrongdoing. ''Wherever we operate, we act in accordance with local regulations and with international standards. We deny any allegations of inappropriate business practices,'' she said.
The Cambodian Minister for Industry, Mines and Energy, Suy Sem, said no ministry officials had received any payments and the ministry had strictly observed the law, the newspaper reported.
In Cambodia, government officials are not allowed to have business interests and are required to declare their assets. This disclosure does not extend to relatives.
OZ Minerals has only recently put another controversy behind it. Last month it paid $60 million to settle two class-action lawsuits that claimed shareholders had lost hundreds of millions of dollars when the miner failed to disclose its true debt position during the global financial crisis.
The company had to sell all its operating mines, except Prominent Hill, to China Minmetals in June 2009 for $US1.39 billion after it failed to reach an agreement with it banks to repay this debt.
It only survived as a separate company when the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, blocked the sale of Prominent Hill, a copper and goldmine in South Australia.
OZ Minerals also retained the gold exploration rights in Cambodia, which could provide more disappointment. In April the company said it was reviewing the future of its gold exploration in the country after failing to find a sufficiently large resource base to justify production.
Meanwhile, BHP said yesterday that its internal investigation into Cambodia bribery allegations was continuing and that it had passed on to US authorities ''evidence that it has uncovered regarding possible violations of applicable anti-corruption laws involving interactions with government officials''.
Cambodia has been beset by claims of corruption in government and civil society.
A report by Transparency International, Global Witness , in 2009 said Cambodia's regulation of its extractive industries suffered "a total lack of transparency in the ownership of companies with the responsibility to handle public assets, and the destination of payments made to secure these concessions".
Australia has yet to prosecute a single case of foreign bribery.