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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

French Architect Tied to Disgraced Chinese Politician Arrives in Beijing

BEIJING -- The French government said on Monday that its diplomats visited a French architect over the weekend after he arrived in Beijing from Cambodia in connection with the case of a disgraced Chinese politician and his wife, but French officials disputed earlier accounts that the Chinese had taken him into custody.

After news media reports on Saturday that the Chinese had taken the architect, Patrick Henri Devillers, 51, into custody, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said that Mr. Devillers was being "housed" in "proper conditions" and that he was not in prison. "He is well; he's in great health," said the spokesman, Bernard Valero.

An official at the French Embassy in Beijing said French diplomats would visit Mr. Devillers again this week. But officials did not specify his whereabouts or say whether he was free to leave China.

  Devillers was one of a group of Westerners friendly with the now-disgraced Chongqing party chief, Bo Xilai, and his wife, Gu Kailai, as they gained greater political standing in China in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mr. Devillers helped lay out a new street grid for the city of Dalian when Mr. Bo was its dynamic mayor, and he later was a business partner with Mr. Bo's wife.

The Chinese couple's downfall began after another Westerner who had been part of their circle, Neil Heywood, was found dead last November in a hotel room in Chongqing. The cause of death was initially ruled to be alcohol poisoning. But in February, Mr. Bo's police chief, Wang Lijun, went to the United States Consulate in Chengdu and revealed that Ms. Gu may have helped arrange Mr. Heywood's murder, drawing international attention to the case and opening a rare window into power struggles within China's top leadership.

The scandal quickly broadened. Mr. Bo, whose populist agenda had already alienated some of the leadership, was stripped of his post amid suggestions that he had an extensive surveillance network that reached the party's top echelon. He has not been seen publicly in months and is believed to be held in Beijing. Ms. Gu is also in custody in connection with Mr. Heywood's case. Mr. Wang has not been seen since he was escorted from the Chengdu consulate.

Mr. Devillers's whereabouts had been a mystery for months, until a reporter for The New York Times found him in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in May. At the time, he said he had no interest in getting involved in the investigation by the Chinese into the Heywood murder.

But he then appeared to become the object of a tug of war between France on one side and Cambodia and China on the other. China is Cambodia's biggest foreign donor, and it enjoys Cambodia's loyalty in many disputes.

On June 13, Mr. Devillers was arrested in Phnom Penh at China's request. Cambodian officials, aware of protests from France, said at the time that they would not send the architect to China without proof of wrongdoing. He was released at the request of China last Tuesday, the Cambodian authorities said, and he boarded a plane for Shanghai the same day.

Before leaving, he made a video for the Cambodian authorities in which he said that he was leaving for China voluntarily and that he would go to Beijing. It showed Mr. Devillers sitting on a couch and answering questions in French from what appeared to be a Cambodian official holding a microphone.

"I reiterate that I'm leaving freely to this destination," he said.

Scott Sayare contributed reporting from Paris.

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Cambodia's construction sector will see a slowdown in 2012

BMI View: We remain convinced that Cambodia's construction sector will see a slowdown in 2012, despite robust growth in project approvals over January and February. Not only do issues such as flood concerns and poor global economic outlook remain pertinent, but we have also seen a marked increase in the number of large-scale projects being delayed by business environment risks. This suggests there is a problem moving project approvals along to the construction phase. As a result, we forecast Cambodia's construction sector to experience a slowdown in 2012 with real growth of 6.6%, down from an estimated 13.7% in 2011. The key developments in Cambodia's infrastructure sector are:

In March 2012, Australian logistics group Toll Group announced that it withdrew from its 30- year concession to operate Cambodia's railway network. Toll Royal Railway, a joint venture (JV) between Cambodia's Royal Group and Toll Group, suspended all railway operations for a year and laid off half of its 120 personnel on a recall basis at the end of March 2012. The JV had secured the concession in mid-2009 and was part of a plan to revive the country's decrepit railway network, following years of neglect.

In April 2012, Thailand power producer Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding has formed a joint venture (JV) with Cambodian tycoon Ly Yong Phat for the construction of a US$3bn coal-fired power plant in the province of Koh Kong. This JV agreement comes after Ratchaburi completed a feasibility study for the 1800-megawatt (MW) power plant in February 2012. Besides developing the coal-fired power plant, the JV, named KK Power, is also planning to invest up to US$30mn in transmission lines between the power plant and the Tatay hydropower plant in Koh Kong. KK Power is holding negotiations with Thai officials regarding the tariffs for the coal power plant. Upon completion, the Koh Kong project will be the largest power plant in Cambodia.

In April 2012, Heng Development announced that it is planning to spend around US$200mn on a water treatment project in Cambodia, in a joint venture (JV) with China CAMC Engineering and BIG International. Heng Development is to own a 30% in the JV, while China CAMC Engineering and BIG International would hold a 50% and 20% stake, respectively. CAMC and BIG have been carrying out research in coastal areas, Battambang, Kampong Cham and Kandal province.

The price of this market report covers 4 quarterly reports on this sector. This quarterly report will be downloadable instantly as a PDF document, with the 3 remaining reports delivered at regular intervals throughout the year.
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Frenchman shot and killed in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A Frenchman living in the Cambodian capital has been shot and killed in what police suspect was a botched robbery or a crime of passion.

Police say 43-year-old Franck Mathieu was shot early Tuesday while riding his motorcycle in Phnom Penh. He later died in hospital.

District police chief Houth Chan Yaran says police are searching for three suspected attackers and investigating Mathieu's Cambodian girlfriend.

The website for Cambodia's Deum Ampil newspaper quoted Mathieu's 20-year-old girlfriend as saying they had lived together several months. She said she discovered his body in the street as she returned home from a market.

A witness told the website he saw three attackers attempt to rob Mathieu. One of them shot Mathieu who refused to hand over what appeared to be a mobile phone.

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Cambodia's Banking Sees 31 pct Lending Growth

Loan demands from Cambodia's banking industry had surged by 31 percent in the last twelve months thanks to the growing business activities in trade, real estate, agriculture and manufacturing, a central bank's senior official said Tuesday.

As of June 2012, the kingdom's 32 commercial banks had lent a total of 4.92 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 31 percent from 3.75 billion U.S. dollars at the end of June last year, Nguon Sokha, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), said, citing the NBC's data.

She said that 32 percent of the loan went to trade, 16 percent to real estate, construction and mortgage, 10 percent to agriculture, 9 percent to manufacturing, and the rest went to tourism and services sector.

In terms of deposit, she said, the customers' deposits at the banks had reached 5.64 billion U.S. dollars by the end of June this year, up 23 percent from 4.58 billion U.S. dollars in last June.

"Generally, loan demand has increased in all sectors that reflect better business environment in the country," she said, adding that the banking industry in the last twelve months was very healthy.
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