|Australian police suspect a nephew of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is involved in a heroin trafficking and money laundering syndicate targetting Australia. Photo: AFP|
DRUGS: Aussie men in Cambodia?
March 26, 2012
Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker
The Canberra Times
AUSTRALIAN police suspect a nephew of Cambodia's Prime Minister of involvement in a heroin trafficking and money laundering syndicate targeting Australia.
But a plan to arrest and question Hun To in Melbourne was thwarted because his application for a visa was denied by Australian embassy officials in Phnom Penh, with one official citing the need to avoid a diplomatic incident.
The targeting of Hun To by an Australian Crime Commission inquiry between 2002 and 2004 is one of several incidents that suggest strong and continuing links between local crime figures and Cambodia.
The Age can also reveal that Sydney crime figures have been investing millions of dollars of suspected drug proceeds in businesses in Cambodia, including some tied to influential government and business identities.
The revelations come after The Saturday Age reported that police had uncovered a global crime syndicate importing more than $1 billion of drugs into Australia annually, with connections to government and policing officials across Asia.
The inquiry that targeted Hun To, dubbed Operation Illipango, investigated the shipment of heroin into Australia from Cambodia in loads of timber.
Hun To, a nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen, is a powerful and feared figure in Cambodia. He was once considered a close business associate of Cambodia's richest man, tycoon Kith Meng, who owns the Royal Group investment and development empire.
Operation Illipango investigated suspected drug funds taken to Crown casino in Melbourne, from where — under the suspected oversight of Hun To — they were then moved to Asia.
Kith Meng had numerous dealings with Hun To during Hun To's suspected crime activity, although The Age is not suggesting Kith Meng is involved in organised crime.
Kith Meng's Royal Group has partnered major Australian companies such as ANZ and Toll Holdings in joint venture projects in Cambodia.
Plans to arrest Hun To were derailed after his visa was cancelled. An embassy official briefed on the police operation targeting him is believed to have raised concerns that his arrest could create a diplomatic incident. An Immigration Department spokesman said privacy laws prevented the department from discussing whether he had applied for a visa or reasons why such an application may have been denied.
The only person charged with drug trafficking in connection to the ACC inquiry was Cambodian national Phenny Thai, a lowly associate of Hun To.
Phenny Thai was described in the Victorian Supreme Court in 2005 as having "strong connections with powerful people in Cambodia which facilitated his business enterprises." He had also "gained the rank of major in the Cambodian army, having paid for that appointment."
Among other Australians with suspected organised crime links to Cambodia are a Vietnamese-Chinese family that owns a well-known Sydney Asian restaurant.
Police have determined that over the past decade, the family has helped send more than $10 million to Cambodia, including suspected proceeds of drug trafficking. Some of the money was used to fund a casino. Other funds were invested in a casino cruise ship.
In 2006, an associate of this Australian crime family told an Asian news service that their casino business maintained "a good relationship with the Cambodian government."
Hun To could not be contacted for comment. Kith Meng said he was too busy to talk to The Age.