Global Witness maintains land-grab claims against Vietnam tycoon

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Environmental watchdog Global Witness has stood by its accusation of land-grabbing and environmental destruction in Cambodia and Laos against a Vietnamese private company, which had rejected the allegations.
The UK-based organization released a statement Monday after Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) CEO Doan Nguyen Duc held a press conference last week to contest the evidence it cited in its report "Rubber Barons."
The report said the World Bank's International Finance Corporation and Deutsche Bank financed HAGL and the state-owned Vietnam Rubber Group to acquire vast tracts of land for rubber plantations in Cambodia and Laos.
The firms are now violating the countries' laws and contributing to environmental and human rights abuses, it said.
Global Witness said it "stands by all of its assertions and evidence."
The organization said it has documented systemic legal violations by HAGL's rubber plantations in both Cambodia and Laos last year.
HAGL has acquired almost five times the maximum allowed area in Cambodia and openly ignores legal, environmental, and social safeguards, devastating local livelihoods and forests in the process, the report said.
"Instead of addressing the evidence in the report and improving the situation for the hundreds of affected peoples on the ground, HAGL seems more concerned with protecting its public image," Megan MacInnes, head of Global Witness's land team, said.
"What is the company going to do to bring a stop to the destruction it is responsible for?"
According to Global Witness, its representatives met with HAGL representatives on August 22 last year in Pleiku to present the evidence and recommend steps the company should take to remedy the problems.
Duc now denies that the meeting ever took place, it said.
The meeting was followed by several email exchanges over a number of weeks, during which the company stated it was not willing to implement these recommendations, it said.
In March this year Global Witness wrote to HAGL asking for an update on the action the company had taken since August 2012, but the company declined to answer, it said.
It is in dialogue with Duc and his colleagues about meeting again in Pleiku next month.
Asked about the invitation from the company to visit its rubber plantations, Global Witness said it visited them a number of times last year, and it would be more productive to sit down with the company directly to discuss its findings and what action can be taken to address the problems.
Duc told the Vietnamese media that HAGL invested in rubber and sugarcane plantations in Laos and Cambodia in strict compliance with local laws.
He said the governments of the two countries have total control over the timber in their forests.
He rejected all the accusations and demanded evidence from Global Witness.
Duc, known as bau Duc (bau means Big Boss) is one of Vietnam's richest men.
He owns a football club and is the first Vietnamese to buy a private jet.
Malysian newspaper The Malay Mail reported recently that Global Witness has been receiving funding from currency speculator George Soros for more than a decade.

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