In January, the wife of Cambodia’s most senior police officer dropped €2.5 million (US$2.7 million) on a pair of two-storey villas on the coast of Cyprus, Radio Free Asia has learned.
Part of the Cap St Georges luxury development, where pop star Shakira also owns a home, the two-storey villas came complete with a shared swimming pool and “majestic” views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Hun Kimleng, whose uncle is Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, completed the purchase even as the Cypriot government attempted to revoke citizenships it had granted to her and her family in 2017.
It’s the latest evidence of how members of Cambodia’s monied elite, including those with close family ties to the nation’s authoritarian leader, are scooping up foreign real estate. That trend is the focus of an ongoing investigative series by RFA.
Since 2013, Cyprus has controversially allowed anyone willing to invest €2 million (US$2.2 million) in the prosperous island nation’s business or real estate sectors to obtain citizenship.
The Cypriot government does not publish the names of individuals who become citizens by investment. However, an investigation by Reuters last October revealed that Kimleng and her husband, National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun, were among eight politically connected Cambodians to have become Cypriot by investment.
In Nicosia, the revelation prompted scrutiny of the citizenship-by-investment program. Less than a month after the Reuters’ investigation, the Cypriot government announced it would strip Kimleng, Savouen and 24 others of their citizenship.
Backdoor to the EU
The scheme has proven popular, enabling more than 4,000 individuals to gain Cypriot citizenship since 2013. After Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, its passport has been sought by international jet-setters and organised criminals alike seeking unfettered access to the 27-nation EU.
But those plans hit a snag when it emerged that the legislation underpinning the cash-for-passports program lacked a provision for revoking citizenship from individuals deemed problematic. Cypriot lawmakers are introducing an amendment to the law to resolve the issue.
In a January 2019 report on “Investor Citizenship and Residence Schemes,” the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, cautioned that programs such as Cyprus’ come with enhanced “risks of infiltration of non-EU organised crime groups in the economy, money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.”
Savoeun was among 12 senior Cambodian military and police officials termed the country’s “Dirty Dozen” in a 2018 report by Human Rights Watch. The report details a litany of abuses by the police chief dating back four decades since shortly after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime.
“Neth Savoeun of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police became a big shot because he was so awfully brutal at interrogation. He even shot people during interrogation,” one police colleague is quoted as having told a human rights monitor in 1984.
Since then, he has remained a trusted ally and enforcer of Hun Sen, whose niece, Hun Kimleng, he married on Valentine’s Day, 1989.
Savoeun was among 12 senior Cambodian military and police officials termed the country’s “Dirty Dozen” for egregious rights abuses in a 2018 report by Human Rights Watch.
The couple have gone on to acquire properties across Europe and Asia. As Reuters reported last year, Kimleng’s name is on the deeds to a serviced apartment in Singapore she paid $3.5 million for, as well as a London flat on the fifth most expensive street in Britain, for which she paid $2.5 million. In 2017, their eldest daughter acquired two adjoining apartments on the same street in London for a total of $6.8 million.
Kimleng and her daughter’s apartments are both within 50 meters of the $5 million London apartment of another of Hun Sen’s nieces, Kimleng’s younger sister Hun Chantha, whose high-flying lifestyle was the subject of an earlier RFA investigation.
Inclusive of the Cyprus villas, the total amount of money currently known to have been spent on overseas real estate by Kimleng, Savoeun and their children clocks in at more than $15 million.
An unsigned early draft of the sale contract for Kimleng’s villas was leaked online late last year. It detailed how Hustonia Limited and Celicandia Limited, subsidiaries of Korantina Homes, the company behind the Cap St Georges development, allegedly agreed to construct a 500-square-meter, six-bedroom villa with adjoining 20-meter-long swimming pool in return for €2.5 million (US$2.7 million).
Access to Cyprus property records is tightly restricted, and the nation’s privacy laws prohibit the sharing of official documents regarding a third party without their consent. However, RFA was able to commission a Cypriot law firm to inspect the relevant records on its behalf.
A.G. Paphitis & Co confirmed that the properties built on the plot of land referenced in the draft contract do indeed belong to a Hun Kimleng, who purchased it for €2.5 million from Hustonia Limited. According to records consulted by A.G. Paphtiis & Co, the plot houses “two residential properties of two floors each as well as a shared swimming pool.”
The same records indicate the sale was only completed on Jan. 17, 2020, almost four years after the date on the leaked draft contract. The late completion date leaves questions to be answered by Korantina Homes, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Cypriot law requires realtors to carry out due diligence on transactions. It is unclear how the purchase by Kimleng would have cleared any meaningful checks at a time when the Cypriot government had made public its intention to revoke her citizenship.
Kimleng did not respond to a request for comment. RFA also called her husband, Neth Savoeun, to ask about his Cypriot citizenship. He said he didn’t have time to comment and referred the question to Cambodian National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun who declined to speak about his boss’ personal matters. It’s unclear whether the family have spent much time in Cyprus since gaining citizenship in 2017.
Kimleng and Neth Savoeun’s eldest daughter, Neth Vichhuna, visited the island in March 2018, her Instagram feed shows. “Cyprus you’ve been AMAZING!!” she wrote. She posted a series of photos, showing her and friends posing by rocky coastlines, azure seas and ancient ruins.
Korantina Homes makes no bones about the reason many of its customers are interested in real estate in Cyprus. Its website dedicates an entire section to the citizenship-by-investment scheme, boasting: “Our stunning villas and our deluxe apartments fit the requirements you need to obtain the Cypriot citizenship or a Permanent Residence Permit.”
When the scheme got a bad rap last year following the Reuters exposé, Korantina’s founder George Ioannou was among a group of Cypriot realtors who leapt to its defense.
“Losing the scheme will have serious consequences on the economy,” he warned in an interview with Cyprus’ Financial Mirror.
He did not, however, object to the government’s plan to strip the 26 individuals featured in the Reuters investigation of their citizenships. “We definitely don’t want criminals in Cyprus,” he told the Financial Mirror, describing them as “old cases of investors who took advantage of the programme at a time when it was the only lifeline for the country.”
He neglected to mention that his company was in the process of selling two villas to one of those 26 “old cases.”