Khmer Rouge Incorporated*


A notion persists that the Khmer Rouge sealed off Cambodia from the rest of the world to impose an autarkic-agrarian economy through communism-on-steroids. 

The reality contains more nuance. 

The Khmer Rouge had close relationships with selected ideologically-kindred countries, most notably China.

One intriguing aspect of this link is that the Khmer Rouge deployed one of modern capitalism’s foundation stones: the limited liability company.

So it was that, in October 1976, 18 months after the Khmer Rouge swept to power and emptied Cambodia’s cities in part to ‘smash’ perceived bastions of private ownership and capitalist ideology, the Khmer Rouge incorporated ‘Ren Fung Company Limited’ in (then) British-controlled Hong Kong. 

Not only did the Khmer Rouge resort to incorporation, they did so offshore. 

Ren Fung, company registration number 49782, was the outward-facing trading front for the Foreign Trade Company of Democratic Kampuchea (“FORTRA”). It became the locus for Democratic Kampuchea’s tentative steps in international trade and commerce. [1]

Ren Fung was not a Khmer name. It is the English transliteration of traditional Cantonese characters rather than the simplified style used in mainland China at that time. I understand that it means something along the lines of “great flowering abundance”.

This Hong Kong company was closely supervised by the Communist Party of Kampuchea’s (“CPK”) Commerce Committee which over time came to report to KHIEU Samphan, the Head of State.[2]

Background to Incorporation

Ren Fung’s incorporation was planned at the highest levels of the CPK. In May 1976, the CPK’s Standing Committee, the Party’s highest decision-making body, decided to send VAN Rith (a leading member of the Commerce Committee [3]) to Hong Kong.[4]

VAN Rith was a former student of Lycée Sisowath, the school in Phnom Penh named after King Sisowath who reigned from 1904 to 1927. The school’s alumni included a number who became leaders of the Khmer Rouge, including POL Pot, KHIEU Samphan and IENG Sary.  

In 2003, VAN Rith told the Document Centre for Cambodia that he had gone Hong Kong for one week on 4 April 1976 to open an office in Hong Kong to benefit from a start-up deal that the CPK had struck with the China: a 140 million yuan (US$ 24.6 million) credit-line to import goods.[5] The deal had been negotiated with Li Qiang (China’s Foreign Trade Minister) earlier that year and was split between two accounts:

(i) an “A account” to buy Chinese goods; and

(ii) a “B account” which represented credits for Cambodian exports to China.

British-controlled Hong Kong was the hub for this Chinese credit-line. Apparently a “Chinese company helped introduce Van Rith to businessmen.”[6]

Corporate Foundations

Ren Fung’s corporate documents are available from the Companies Registry in Hong Kong.[7] Ren Fung’s registered office was on the 8th floor of the (then) Yien Yieh Commercial Bank Building on 242 Des Vouex Road Central, Victoria, Hong Kong. The documents record the corporate bureaucracy with which the Khmer Rouge had to engage. The Khmer Rouge used a firm of Hong Kong solicitors known as Ford Kwan & Co.

The corporate documents show that paid stamp duty was paid. The company’s foundational document, its Memorandum of Association, even bears the stamp of the late Queen’s face: 

The Memorandum was witnessed by a Hong Kong solicitor called Eliza S.M. Tam: 

The Individuals Involved with Ren Fung

Who were the individuals entrusted with corporate responsibilities? 

As can be seen above, Ren Fung’s initial shareholders were San Sok and So Chea. They were identified (in English and Chinese characters) as “merchants” who lived on the 11th Floor of No. 39 Village Road, Happy Valley. 

Ren Fung’s Articles of Association provided (Art. 72) that VAN Rith would be Chairman with either San Sok or So Chea to act as chair in his absence. They further provided (Art. 74) that VAN Rith would be the Managing Director, with San Sok the first General Manager.

Arts. 75 and 78 identified a “Mr Honap” as first secretary of the company, but this was amended (in manuscript) to record “Miss” Honat. It appears that she was married to San Sok – more of her shortly.

San Sok had been a manager of import/export cargo accounts for the Khmer Rouge. In April 1976, he was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Land Transport Committee, subordinate to the CPK’s Standing Committee.[8]

It appears that shortly after this appointment, San Sok and his wife moved to Hong Kong. The case file at the Khmer Rouge tribunal includes a picture of them, apparently together in Hong Kong, and a picture of San Sok apparently at The Peak.

In around 1976, the historian Nayan Chanda interviewed some Cambodians in Hong Kong, but they denied any connection to Democratic Kampuchea.[9] Another renowned historian, Ben Kiernan, later suggested that an anonymous Chinese intermediary did most of Ren Fung’s buying and selling, with one significant exception being when Ren Fung bought 400,000 tonnes of the chemical DDT from the US Montrose Chemical Corporation: “the first-ever commercial deal since the imposition of the US embargo for which the American company received US Government clearance on humanitarian grounds.”[10]

Some of the trade documents and communications back-and-forth between Khmer Rouge cadres in Phnom Penh and Ren Fung in Hong Kong were in evidence in Case 002.

From Corporate Directors to S-21

As attempts at international trade continued, however, Ren Fung still had to comply with capitalist strictures such as filings at Companies House. For instance, Ren Fung’s annual report dated 30 November 1977 was prepared by “Marfan & Associates” and records the same shareholders: Van Rit (4,000), So Chea (4,000), San Sok (4,000) and Honat (3,000) with each of their addresses listed as Apartment 11/F, 39 Village Road, Happy Valley.

By the end of 1978, the Khmer Rouge regime had started to unravel following deadly purges and mass starvation. It seems that the paranoia reached to Hong Kong and Ren Fung.  

A selection of documents reveal ominous efforts to recall some of Ren Fung’s directors to Cambodia, while clumsily complying with Hong Kong’s company laws. 

The sequence appears to be as follows. 

Thuch Rin alias Krin, the director of the Kampong Som Port (now called Sihanoukville), was sent to Hong Kong to take care of matters.[11]

On 9 October 1978, Krin wrote to the leadership in Democratic Kampuchea. He explained that he had received legal advice that it would not be possible simply to change the names of Ren Fung’s representatives because, apparently, the British Hong Kong authorities would not accept the signature or stamp from Democratic Kampuchea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

One possible explanation for Krin’s letter could be that Sokh had already be recalled from Hong Kong. Whatever the reason, this bureaucratic complication caused Krin to suggest this alternative cryptic proposal: they should ask “a Chinese person, who knows the French” who could approach another law firm which could switch the names within a month – but it would cost “lots of fees”. This could be the euphemistic language of bribery.  

Krin’s telegram explained that Sokh would not need to be physically present, which again suggests that San Sokh was already in Cambodia.

As for Sokh’s wife, Krin asked his superiors in Phnom Penh for a letter leaving part blank which Nat) could sign in the presence of a lawyer: “Doing this way, perhaps, the fee might not be too much.”[12]

On 18 October 1978, Krin again wrote to the leadership to request that VAN Rith and [San] Sokh’s signatures be placed on a blank stock-transfer form. He continued that the [unidentified] law firm would fill in the blanks “to avoid the fine [imposed] by the Administration for the sale of shares (of comrade Sok) without informing them beforehand. Normally, the law said that prior to selling any shares; one should notify the [Administration] for [at least] 3 weeks before.”[13]

On 23 October 1978, Krin wrote to the leadership again to chase for Rith and Sok’s signatures.[14] This document bears a comment from Rith, presumably to his superiors, to explain that unless the necessary documents were sent back to Hong Kong, the “conveyance and rotating of duties in the company will not be possible.”

On 27 October 1978, the CPK’s Commerce Committee wrote to Krin and Nat in Hong Kong.[15] The letter greeted them as “Lovely and Missing Comrades Krin and Nat” and discussed the practical problems with transferring shares from Sokh’s name to that of Krin. They quibbled with the previous legal advice and suggested that a letter of transfer plus a formal endorsement should be sufficient. It directed that Nat’s shares should be sold directly to Krin, who should now take overall charge of Ren Fung. The key issue was said to be to ensure that Krin could manage Ren Fung: “No matter how you do it, the key issue is to provide comrade Krin with power to manage the company, as set by the rule of Hong Kong Administration.”

Ho Nat then resigned as a director of Ren Fung on 13 November 1978. Marfan & Associates filed the necessary corporate documents. 

By 21 November 1978, therefore, corporate documents confirmed that Ren Fung’s Directors / Managers were Van Rit, So Chea and “Yim” [THUCH Rin] Krin. 

Whereas Van Rith and So Chea’s address was identified as the same in Happy Valley, Yim Krin’s usual residential address was given as 20 Kramuon Sar Street, Democratic Kampuchea – the link to the Khmer Rouge now clear.

On 6 December 1978, Ren Fung filed its annual report, again prepared by Marfan & Associates. The shareholders were identified as Van Rit (4,000); So Chea (4,000); and Yim Krin (7,000). Sokh and Nath had vanished: their corporate tenures ended.[16]

What happened to Sokh and Nat?

A further telegram dated 10 December 1978 from the Commerce Committee to Hong Kong greeted Krin and Nat “with love and nostalgia” and explained that Nat (and Sokh) were to be given a new task in Cambodia. Krin was requested to facilitate Nat’s “safe return” to Democratic Kampuchea, together with her child (identified as San Feng). It closed by wishing them both “very good health and success in your next endeavours”.[17]  

This was not true. 

Documentary records show that both Nat and Sokh were taken to S-21.[18]

Sokh entered S-21 on 29 December 1978.[19] He was 33. 

Nat entered S-21 the next day, 30 December 1978. She was 35.[20]

The following photos of her survived, one apparently in an office (perhaps in Hong Kong); the other apparently from S-21. 

The Khmer Rouge regime collapsed shortly afterwards as Vietnamese troops advanced towards Phnom Penh. The former head of S-21 Duch testified before the ECCC that, in early January 1979, NUON Chea instructed him to remove and kill all remaining prisoners.[21]


* This post is work in progress historical research. Please do contact me with any comments, suggestions or corrections. Other than express findings made by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, there is no suggestion of wrong doing on the part of any named individuals or companies

[1]       A. Mertha, Brothers In Arms: Chinese Aid to the Khmer Rouge (Cornell University Press: 2018), p. 127.

[2]       Case 002/02 Trial Judgment, para. 422.

[3]       Case 002/02 Trial Judgment, para. 618.

[4]       Standing Committee Minutes, E3/220, 7 May 1976, p. 1.

[5]       Interviewed by DC-Cam in February 2003.  VAN Rith was also SON Sen’s brother-in-law, through the latter’s marriage to YUN Yat. He died in 2008. Van Rith was also interviewed by Steven Heder on March 2004 (E3/5699).

[6]       According to Van Rith, IENG Sary opposed his appointment because he had wanted to “appoint one of his own cronies”.


[8]       Summary of Decisions of the Standing Committee, 19-21 April 1976, E3/236, ERN 00183416.

[9]       B. Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime (2008: Yale University Press), p. 146.

[10]     N. Chanda, ‘Phnom Penh’s Undercover Men’, Far Eastern Economic Review, 10 December 1976, pp. 49-50.

[11]     Case 002/02 Trial Judgment, para. 387; T. 21 November 2016 (THUCH Sithan), E1/500.1, pp. 53-54, 61; 4 June 2012 (SAR Kimlomouth), E1/80.1, pp. 105-106; T. 31 May 2012 (SAR Kimlomouth), E1/79.1, pp. 102-103; Telegram from Krin to Respected Angkar, E3/1904, 18 October 1978, ERN (En) 00234307; Personal History of Prisoner in Detention – Ing Sokh, E3/1532, ERN (En) 00235659 (noting position as Former Chairman of Land Transport, Commerce Chairman stationed in Hong Kong, and detained on 29 December 1978).

[12]     Case 002 Case File, E3/1903, ERN (En) 00234306.

[13]     Case 002 Case File, E3/1904, ERN (En) 00234307.

[14]     Case 002 Case File, E3/2519, ERN (En) 00498185.

[15]     Case 002 Case File, E3/1907.

[16]     The filing explained that San Sok and Ho Nat had transferred their shares (4,000 and 3,000 respectively) to Yim Krin on 20 November 1978.

[17]     Case 002 Case File, E3/1623, ERN (En) 00172216. 

[18]     Telegram from Krin to Respected Angkar, E3/1904, 18 October 1978, ERN (En) 00234307; T. 31 May 2012 (SAR Kimlomouth), E1/79.1, p. 102.

[19]     Personal History of Prisoner in Detention – Ing Sokh, E3/1532, ERN (En) 00235659 (noting position as Former Chairman of Land Transport, Commerce Chairman stationed in Hong Kong, and detained on 29 December 1978); List of Prisoners who entered on 29 December 1978, E3/10216, ERN (En) 00235659.

[20]     E3/1533, ERN (En) 00242035. Her prisoner biography identifies her former name as Phal Va, and that she had 1 son and 2 daughters. She was arrested at “State Commerce”. 

[21]     Case 002/02 Trial Judgment, para. 2556.


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