The Richest Man in Cambodia

December 8, 2009

The richest men in Cambodia or the most powerful economic in Cambodia:
List of Oknha,[a title given to persons who have made a very high charitable donation]in Cambodia.

This list of Oknha is not ranked by their fortune, because we don't how much they have exactly but we know that all of these people are the key factor in Cambodia.

1. Kith Meng (Royal Group)
2. Kith Thieng (Royal Group)
3. Mong Reththy (Mong Reththy Group)
4. Sok Kong (SOKIMEX Co., Ltd)
5. Men Sarun (Men Sarun Co., Ltd)
6. Suy Sophan (Yeay Phan) (Phanimex )
7. Lav Meng Khin (Phanimex )
8. Khaou Phallaboth (Khaou Chully MKK Co)
9. Khaou Chully (Khaou Chully MKK Co)
10. Sy Kong Triv (KT Pacific Group)
11. Ing Bun Hoaw
12. Ly Yoong Phat (L.Y.P Group)
13. Sorn Sokna (Sokimex Group)
14. Phou Puy ( President of Commerce Chamber in Battambang)
15. Sang Than
16. Nang Sothy (Royal Phosphate Limited)
17. So Nguon ( So Nguon Transportation & Service Import Export Co., Ltd)
18. Ly Say Khieng (SKL Group Holding)
19. Sam Ang (Vattanac Bank)
20. Doung Chhiv (Doung Chiv Import and Export)
21. Kok An (ANCO Brother Co., Ltd)
22. Te Tain Por, (LTP Lien Phong International Investment Co., Ltd.)
23. Keo Maly (Takoe Chamber of Commerce)

Oknha is a prestigious title that any wealthy Cambodian aspires to hold. This award of honour was created more than ten years ago and is aimed at those, men and women, who contribute to the reconstruction and the development of the Kingdom. These men and women are mostly influential business people who are connected with the high circles of the ruling power and know, for some of them, how to use this title in order to obtain preferential treatment.

On April 5th 1994, the two co-Prime Ministers at the time, Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen, signed a sub-decree concerning the creation of decorations aimed at local or foreign benefactors working on the welfare of Cambodia. Depending on the level of contribution paid to the Government, three types of medals are granted for national construction: gold, silver and bronze. The lucky recipients of a gold medal - that is when their donation, whether it be material or financial, exceeds US$100,000 - also receive the title of oknha.
According to Thien Mao, director or the Decorations Department of the Council of Ministers , 220 oknhas, among whom less than ten women, have officially received this honour which inspires respect within the Cambodian society. However, these figures are simply official and represent a large underestimation of the real figures.

A title brought back to fashion
Miech Ponn, councillor for the Khmer Mores and Customs Commission at the Buddhist Institute , indicated that the title of oknha could be traced back in the history of Cambodia to the 15th century, under the reign of King Chao Ponhea Yat (1421-1462).
Going by his own research, Miech Ponn attested: “In the 15th and 16th centuries, oknhas were district and province governors as well as the king's personal councillors, in charge of royal, military, judicial and agricultural affairs”. He explained that this title was closer today to the usual “His Excellency” title which precedes the names of ministers and provincial governors.
Time went by and the meaning of oknha was derived from its original sense. Nowadays, those who are granted this honorific acknowledgement are no longer those situated at the forefront of the country's political life but rather, as Thien Mao said referring to the 1994 sub-decree, major sponsors of the state in its effort to rebuild the country.

The recipe to become an oknha
Thien Mao explained the procedures in details: “If a person makes a donation to fund the construction of a school or a road in a province, then the village, district and province authorities can build up an application which will be sent to the Ministry of Interior in order for this benefactor to be acknowledged. When the Ministry of Interior has completed the study of the case, the dossier is handed to the Decorations Department through the Council of Ministers”.

“Then, I check the documents, draft a note certifying that the person has indeed made a donation, and my department can finally express its opinion before passing the application onto the Council of Ministers”. After this, it is the latter's responsibility to study the case and hand it to the Secretary General of the government, which in his turn will give it to the head of government. The application ends its race in the hands of the King, who finally signs it.

No turning down in the applications
Sometimes the Decorations Department turns an application down if it is thought that a few elements in the dossier need to be clarified. The case then goes back to the Ministry of Interior and if the need is felt, it can be sent all the way back to the local authorities who initiated the request.

Evaluating the amount of a donation can sometimes lead to constant headaches. From one step of the long chain to another, accounting rules may differ. Then comes the question of the relevance of the said donations. Thien Mao pointed out: “Let us take the example of a person who gives out 32 mobile phones to the authorities. We have to wonder whether this gesture is serving public or individual interest. These types of donations are delicate because they do not serve the public interest in the same way as schools or hospitals do”. Thien Mao carefully added that his department never turned any candidate down but at most, invited the persons who set up the application to review their copy.

The representative then quickly put in a remark, saying that “some” hit the gold and the title of oknha by directly contacting the Prime Minister without going through the Decorations Department. No further comment was made.

Who are those oknhas?
They can be businessmen from all backgrounds, Cambodian nationals or foreigners, who pay a share of their fortune to the state, mostly through the direct funding of projects such as the building of basic infrastructures. As a matter of fact, almost all of the elected members to the Chamber of Commerce in Phnom Penh belong to the most privileged cast of oknhas.
Thien Mao stressed that once oknhas are nominated in accordance with the sub-decree, some of them join the state apparatus and become senior government officials or Members of the Parliament. It is factual that almost all oknhas are members of the ruling CPP party .

According to Cheam Yeap, CPP chairman of the finance committee of the National Assembly , the latter shelters three oknhas and the Senate , six. Thien Mao stressed that because of the extent of their generosity and competence, the government wants these oknhas to work for the development of the country by integrating them within state institutions, and he precised that “officiating as a Member of Parliament, for instance, is not incompatible with their title of oknha”.

A title leading to misuses
When asked about those oknhas who use and misuse their title to breach the rights of their fellow-citizens, Thien Mao exclaimed that the holders of this award “cannot act the way they wish to”.
However, the press regularly publishes reports of land disputes pitting oknhas against modest villagers, and is not particularly flattering to those oknhas. In 2007, a report of the British NGO Oxfam pointed out that 23,08% of the kingdom's territory belonged to oknhas, who are often known to be high-ranking land speculators.
Thien Mao did not deny that “some of them” have been summoned to court because they used their title to breach the law more easily. Yet, he stressed that despite all this, the cases remained scarce, and then announced that those cases did not pertain to his department but rather came under the responsibility of justice.
Ros Chantraboth, vice-president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, deplored the bad faith of a few oknhas who, by placing themselves above the law, “tarnish the honour”of the cast. He agreed with the fact that only a handful of those do misconduct.
On his part, SRP MP Son Chhay denounced the corruption surrounding the granting procedure of the title of oknha. “Some only aim at getting this title so as to be able to elbow others in the illegal dealings they want to conduct”.

A title that does not change anything?
Si Kong Triv, who has held the denomination of oknha for more than ten years following a proposal of the title by the government itself, does not see “anything extraordinary” about holding it. “Many of us bear it nowadays...”, he said as an explanation.

Oknha Mong Rethty for his part, said that “becoming an oknha does not change anything to your business! It all depends on the circumstances. I, for example, became an oknha in 1996 when the country was still not enjoying peace”. He added that he had paid out more than US$4 million in the building of infrastructures. Still, if this title cannot be used to get away with anything, Mong Riththy admits that it is “like travelling in first class”.

The hierarchy of oknhas
Is the title of “Neak oknha” more prestigious than that of “Lok oknha”? According to some, the “neak”prefix indicates that the person has received the title a long time ago and has been more generous in their donation than “lok oknhas”or other ordinary “oknhas”. However, the representative of the Decorations Department pointed out that the sub-decree does not stipulate such distinctive treatment. “Some increased their rank by adding the prefix 'neak' in front of their title. But originally, the sub-decree only refers to 'oknhas'... Having said that, we must establish a hierarchy among oknhas, which will be determined depending on the amount of their donation to the state, and in collaboration with the Royal Palace”, he suggested.

A few powerful oknhas
Kith Meng: president of the Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce (PPCC), chairman of the Royal Group of companies (including among others Mobitel and the bank ANZ Royal )
Mong Reththy: CPP senator, PPCC vice-president, chairman of the Mong Reththy Group
Lav Meng Khin: CPP senator, PPCC vice-president, and president of Pheapimex
Si Kong Triv: CPP senator, PPCC vice-president, and president of KT Pacific Group
Sok Kong: PPCC honorary president, general director of Sokimex and government councillor with the rank of state minister
Men Sarun: CPP senator, PPCC vice-president and president of Mensarun Import-Export

The medal scale
The sub-decree determines who is entitled to a medal for national construction, and which one:
A financial or material donation with a value of more than US$100,000 to the state enables the granting of a gold medal and the oknha title
A donation between US$10,000 and US$100,000 enables the granting of a gold medal only
A donation between US$5,000 and US$10,000 enables the granting of a silver medal
A donation between US$1,000 and US$5,000 enables the granting of a bronze medal
A donation between US$500 and US$1,000 enables the granting of a certificate from the Council of Ministers.


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