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Cambodian tycoon with ties to Chinese fugitive dies

The Cambodian national soccer team wore black armbands during their Southeast Asia Games match against Singapore on Wednesday evening in tribute to Phnom Penh Crown Football Club owner Rithy Samnang who had died that morning, according to a statement from the Football Federation of Cambodia. It is understood that Samnang, who turned 41 in March, had been suffering from cancer.

Outside of sports, Samnang had business interests in a variety of fields ranging from digital payments to hotels. He was not only incredibly wealthy but also highly connected. His wife Phu Cherlin is the daughter of Kok An, a senator in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. In 2017, his brokerage firm Askap Gold was revealed by the Phnom Penh Post to count among its “main clients” Hun Maly, the youngest daughter of Prime Minister Hun Sen for whom it processed $600,000 of payments in one month alone.

An RFA investigation last year revealed that Samnang had leveraged some of those high-level connections for the benefit of another business partner, Chinese fugitive Xu Aimin. Xu became a naturalized Cambodian citizen in 2005. Eight years later a Chinese court would find him guilty of running a $1.75 billion illegal online gambling ring from Cambodia and sentence him to 10 years in jail. While 36 of his co-conspirators were extradited, Xu has remained in Cambodia and at liberty.

In 2019, six years after Xu was convicted over the illegal gambling scheme, he and Samnang broke ground on the KB Hotel, a luxury Sihanoukville property whose centerpiece – ironically enough – was a 650-square-meter casino.

More recently, in February of this year VOD reported on victims of human trafficking who alleged they were held, beaten and forced to work on scam operations in buildings connected to the hotel.

In the middle of a tribute video posted to Facebook on Wednesday by Samnang’s Phnom Penh Crown soccer team was footage of Samnang giving a speech at the Kantha Bopha hospital. Partially visible in the video at his right-hand side is Xu’s face and torso. The pair had been donating $200,000 to the hospital on behalf of an investment company they managed together.

The donation had been overseen by the head of Cambodia’s military police Gen. Sao Sokha, who is also the president of the Football Federation of Cambodia. On Wednesday the federation posted photographs of Sokha paying his respects and burning incense over Samnang’s body, which was covered in a white cloth.