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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs  19 October 2010

Mobile fund transfers halted in Cambodia

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An international association of mobile operators has suspended grant payments to fund Cambodia's largest service provider Mobitel's money transfer service following regulatory concerns.

In May, the GSM Association (GSMA) announced Mobitel's parent firm CamGSM had been awarded a grant under its US$5 million Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) program largely backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mobitel launched its Cellcard Cash money transfer service in late September. The amount of money awarded to the provider has yet to be disclosed.

Officials have since said service began without oversight from the National Bank of Cambodia, as mandated in August

The central bank stated last week it would act to ensure its laws were followed. GSMA has now suspended grant payments until the situation is resolved, according to an issued statement

The association said that CamGSM was working with the NBC to develop the appropriate regulatory framework and secure a formal licence.

"To this end, the two parties have agreed to suspend the payment of further grant monies until the GSMA MMU Fund Panel is satisfied that CamGSM has secured all necessary regulatory approvals," it said.

"GSMA encourages dialogue between mobile money providers and regulators, however regulation is a matter for the government in each country in which such services are developed."

Mobitel Chief Operations Officer Kay Lot and Chief Executive Officer David Spriggs declined to comment on the oversight issue. Kith Meng, chairman of CamGSM owner Royal Group, also declined comment.

NBC Director General Tal Nay Im said there were no developments following statements made last week.

Despite the controversy, GSMA remained enthusiastic about the future of banking via mobile phone in Cambodia.

Cambodia was ideally positioned to benefit from mobile money transfers, as fewer than 4 percent of people have bank accounts, its statement said.

Cellcard Cash's two competitors, money-transfer service Wing, and ACLEDA Bank's Unity mobile banking service, both function with oversight by the National Bank of Cambodia.

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