THE Cambodian Prime Minister has denied that BHP Billiton paid a large bribe for an exploration contract in his country.
It was reported last week that the US Securities and Exchange Commission was probing BHP over a $US2.5 million ($A2.7 million) payment related to a project in Cambodia.
But Cambodian leader Hun Sen said the money was for a ''social fund'' established in an agreement between Australia and Cambodia, and was used to build a hydroelectric dam, schools and hospitals.
''These days, they have been saying BHP paid illegal money to Cambodia,'' Mr Hun Sen said.
''Let's see the contract - it was a social fund. It is written in the contract. It is not secret.''
BHP last week said it had evidence of possible corruption involving ''interaction'' with government officials, related to a minerals exploration project terminated last year.
It declined to reveal the location of the project, but said it was not in China, where four staff of rival miner Rio Tinto were jailed for bribery and commercial espionage last month.
BHP has said it paid $US2.5 million to a community in Cambodia's east and $US1 million to the government for bauxite exploration rights, according to reports.
BHP said it handed evidence to the US SEC and was conducting an internal investigation.