Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew, Hun To, hit back strongly yesterday at allegations published in a leading Australian newspaper, The Age, which linked him to an international drug smuggling and money laundering ring, demanding that the publisher print a retraction.
Mr. To sent a letter to the publisher of The Age, care of Australian Ambassador Penny Richards, demanding a correction and apology, and threatening legal action.
“I have never been involved in any heroin trafficking or involved in money laundering directly or indirectly,” Mr. To said in the letter.
“Before using my rights to legally defend myself, I must use my rights to respond to The Age asking your newspaper to republish a correction so that the public in Cambodia, in Australia and in other countries understand the above mentioned exaggeration,” he wrote.
On Sunday, The Age published a story (which was also published in The Sydney Morning Herald) alleging that Australian authorities had planned to arrest Mr. To in Melbourne for his involvement in shipping heroin to Australia, but that he never arrived after the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh did not grant him a visa, “citing a need to avoid a diplomatic incident.” The Age did not say when the alleged events were supposed to have taken place.
In an interview at his home in Phnom Penh yesterday, Mr. To provided a copy of his Cambodian passport to The Cambodia Daily, which showed that he had visited Australia on several occasions, he most recent in November, staying for two months, and on two other occasions in 2010.
Mr. To also said he would be visiting Australia again later this year.
“I’ll go to Australia in July to visit with my son,” Mr. To said. “If I am wrong, why did the Australian Embassy give me a visa?”
Mr. To also said in the letter to the publisher of The Age that the claim that he had been denied a visa was “an exaggeration because I have been issued Australian visa three times and my trips to Australia with my wife and children along with some friends had been going smoothly without any problems or obstacles.”
Asked whether he had been denied a visa in the past, Mr. To said: “He [The Age journalist] alleged that Australia blocked my visa. Show me the proof.”
The Australian Crime Commission (ACC), which The Age alleged had investigated Hun To between 2002 and 2004, has not issued a public reaction to the newspaper’s report. Speaking to reporters on Monday in Phnom Penh, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr also declined to comment on the report.
The Age article also said that Cambodian national Phenny Thai, who the newspaper described as a “lowly associate of Hun To,” had been charged with drug trafficking in connection with the ACC investigation.
Mr. To said yesterday that he did not know Mr. Thai.
“I don’t even recognize the name,” he said.
Known to drive a Lamborghini sport car and to own a state-of-the-art speedboat, Mr. To said that any wealth he had accumulated was done legally and that he was the director of an oil company, LHR Asean Investment Co Ltd.
“I have my own oil company and I have a license from the government and I have to pay tax to the government,” he said. “Before, I worked [owning a] rubber plantation,” he said.
The Age’s editor-in-chief, Paul Ramadge, did not immediately respond to a request for comment yesterday.
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