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NEWS UPDATES 28 April 2010

Cambodia: PM denies taking bribes from mining giant

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The Cambodian prime minister on Tuesday denied mining giant BHP Billiton paid a large bribe for an exploration contract in his country, reported AFP.

Australian media last week reported that authorities in the United States were probing BHP over a $2.5 million payment related to a project in Cambodia. But Cambodian leader Hun Sen said the money was for a "social fund" established in an agreement between Australia and Cambodia, and was used to build a hydroelectric dam, schools and hospitals.

"These days, they have been saying BHP paid illegal money to Cambodia. Let's see the contract -- it was a social fund," Hun Sen said in a speech. "This issue is written in the contract. It is not the under-the-table money," Hun Sen told a meeting between the government and private sector which Australia's ambassador to Cambodia also attended.

"It is written in the contract. It is not secret," he said. The Anglo-Australian miner on Wednesday said it had evidence of possible corruption involving "interaction" with government officials, related to a minerals exploration project which was terminated about a year ago.

It declined to reveal the location of the project, but said it was not in China, where four staff of rival miner Rio Tinto were jailed for bribery and commercial espionage last month. BHP has said it paid 2.5 million US dollars to a community in Cambodia's east and $1 million to the government for bauxite exploration rights, according to The Australian newspaper.

Hun Sen added that French oil company Total had also contributed eight million dollars towards a "social fund" as part of an 28 million dollar payment to explore for oil offshore from Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand.

Total "also has paid this kind of money", Hun Sen said. BHP declined to comment on the reports in Australian press.

On Wednesday, it said it had handed evidence to the US Securities and Exchange Commission and was also conducting an internal investigation. Anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness said in a statement last week that Cambodian government accounts do not appear to reflect large amounts of money paid by BHP and other companies for mining concessions.


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