Cambodia Pins Hopes on Removal from Money Laundering Watchlist

Cambodia is hoping to be removed from a money laundering grey list in a bid to attract more investments into the country
Vongsey Vissoth speaks at a public forum in Phnom Penh, January 25, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Vongsey Vissoth speaks at a public forum in Phnom Penh, January 25, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa

A senior economic official said on Wednesday that Cambodia is hoping to be removed from a “grey list" it was placed on in 2019 by an international anti money laundering watchdog to attract new investments into the country.

Reuters reported at the time that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) added Cambodia to its watchlist because of concern it is highly vulnerable to money laundering, and to curtail international financial, investment and trade flows to and from the Southeast Asian country.

The FATF fights against money laundering and terrorist financing.

Vongsey Vissoth, Permanent Secretary of State at the Ministry of Economy and Finance and Minister attached to the Prime Minister, said at a public forum that whether Cambodia can be taken off the list is up to FATF. A decision is expected to be made in March.

“The commitment, the political level, to fulfill obligations according to activities and plans, we have already done those and they have already come to do auditing work,” Vissoth told reporters at the forum.

“Whatever they decide, it is up to them but I would like to clarify that we hope to leave the list in March or June and [this] can be a solution of barriers in attracting businesses and investments from outside into our Cambodian soil in the future,” he added.

Vissoth also talked about the reopening of China, which will benefit Cambodia as Beijing is one of the nation’s four partners. Forty two percent of all foreign direct investment (FDIs) come from China, he said.

“China still plays a role in investments, not just in the industrial sector, also in agriculture, tourism, real estate and infrastructure,” he said.

“We’ve heard a few days ago about building an expressway from Phnom Penh to Bavet, which is more than $1 billion. Phnom Penh - Preah Sihanouk expressway is also another big investment and now we hear about speed trains, it is also from China,” Vissoth added.

He said that reopening of the Chinese economy is an opportunity for the flow of capital from China to Cambodia, and some investments with targets to export abroad may also relocate from China to Cambodia.

He said that during Covid and the trade war between the US and China, the ASEAN bloc benefited the most.

Cambodia’s biggest export markets are the EU, US and China, and raw materials for exports are also from China. He added that two million tourists from China are forecast to visit Cambodia this year.

He also defended debt to China, which stands at 40 percent of the total $9.9 billion, saying that the money has been used correctly and with returns.