CAMBODIA: Update says rubber company up to old tricks

In May, the London-based NGO published an investigation into two Vietnamese rubber companies - HAGL and the Vietnam Rubber Group - which it accused of destroying lives and the environment and flouting Cambodian law with the tacit acquiescence of the authorities. "HAGL has been very good at making commitments but very bad at keeping them,” Megan MacInnes, who heads Global Witness' land program, said in the statement. "It's been busy telling us and everyone else it's serious about changing its ways, but the evidence indicates that logging is still carrying on and the people whose farms were bulldozed are still struggling to feed themselves.”

The group also warned investors in the company that it "now poses a financial and reputational risk” and "recommends they divest”. It singled out the International Finance Corporation and Deutsche Bank as investors who should take heed. However, the IFC has previously said it is invested in a firm called Dragon Capital, which has invested in HAGL, while Deutsche Bank has denied having invested in the firm at all.

Headed by Doan Nguyen Duc, HAGL is one of Vietnam's largest private companies. HAGL owns subsidiaries including Hoang Anh Andong Meas, Hoang Anh Oyadov and Heng Brothers, all in Ratanakkiri province. Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, who has investigated the company's activities in Cambodia for several years, said HAGL's operations had created a "big disaster” in Cambodia. "I doubt there is any country in the world giving away the forest in the way Cambodian government has done.… The disaster started in Vietnam and went to Laos. Now it is a big disaster in Cambodia,” he said. "They just create a fake company and get concessions from the government to sell them [to HAGL].…It affects the sovereignty of the country as well.”

HAGL's office in Vietnam declined to comment on the Global Witness statement and calls to its subsidiaries in Cambodia went unanswered. The company in September agreed to an independent audit, but has backtracked favouring "social programs” that "appear to be little more than a PR exercise,” the Global Witness statement said.

Chhay Thy, Rattanakiri provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said that during the election period HAGL had stopped operations in the province in an attempt to drum up support for the ruling Cambodian People's Party. "For a few months during the elections, [it] did not work to develop anything. Instead, in collaboration with the authorities, it donated gifts … to residents to satisfy them and [encourage them to] vote for the ruling party,” he said, adding that the company had since resumed buying luxury timber to sell on the black market.

Source: Daily "The Phom Penh Post", Phom Penh; 14 Nov 2013(Syed Rashid Ali, Karachi, Pakistan)