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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - $50,000 lost in CMAC kickback scheme

$50,000 lost in CMAC kickback scheme

$50,000 lost in CMAC kickback scheme

THE Assistant Director of the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) is being held personally

responsible for between US$50,754 and US$74,473 lost in payoffs used to secure government

funding for the demining agency between 1996 and 1998.

In an interview with the Post on June 23, CMAC Director-General Sam Sotha revealed

that a soon-to-be-released Ministry of Finance audit of Royal Government funding

for CMAC uncovered the scam.

According to Sotha, two individuals were named as culpable for illegal diversion

of government funds, one of them an unnamed "high ranking CMAC official"

who would be ordered to repay US$74,473.

The Post has subsequently uncovered that the CMAC official is in fact CMAC Assistant

Niem Chouleng, who freely admitted that he was one of the two named in the audit

for fund misappropriation.

However, Chouleng insists that he is a victim of a dysfunctional fund-appropriation

system between CMAC and the Royal Government.

"This money was not [diverted] for my own profit; it was all used for CMAC,"

Chouleng said. "But the [incriminating] documents have my signature so it's

my responsibility."

Chouleng's explanation of the reasons for the misappropriation lay bare the extent

of "creative accounting" freely employed at CMAC over the past five years.

According to Chouleng, CMAC Director-General Sam Sotha and the Chairman of CMAC's

Governing Council, Ieng Mouly, deputized Chouleng as a de-facto fund-raiser for the

organization.

"I am the Assistant Director; I was asked to 'assist'," Chouleng said.

"There were no written orders, everything was verbal ... [Sotha and Mouly] would

say 'We need this [money] and I'd go to negotiate to get it."

Those "negotiations" apparently consisted of four years of arranging CMAC

demining platoons to illegally double-sign salary slips, the proceeds then being

funneled into CMAC.

"The money was used for everything UNDP [United Nations Development Program]

didn't pay for, like ceremonies when the Director-General visited places in and outside

the country," Chouleng explained.

"This was not corruption because [if it were] I wouldn't have signed [my name]."

The source of Chouleng's troubles with the Ministry of Finance audit lies not with

the appropriation method, but rather with the fact that a full 10% of all Royal Government

money thus appropriated was used to "thank" the CMAC employees and government

officials who "facilitated" the procedure.

"We had to thank them with the [financial] arrangement," Chouleng said

of the payoffs, "otherwise the next time we'd get no cooperation."

The informal nature of the "facilitation fees" he doled out to compliant

"facilitators" has landed Chouleng in the hot seat.

"Those people who received the money from me didn't sign [any receipts] so there's

no proof [of who got the money]," Chouleng said, adding "why put those

people in [trouble] ... they need to survive too."

Chouleng claims not to have had any hint from CMAC accountants or upper management

that his circuitous fund-raising initiatives and that their intrinsic payoffs were

morally or legally dubious.

""For four years nobody said this was wrong; [CMAC] just closed [its financial]

books at the end of each year and then started over again," he protested. "

So far, Chouleng has yet to be informed by CMAC management that his well-intentioned

fund-raising will not cost him financially or legally.

Chouleng claims to be incapable of repaying the missing money - which he's been informed

totals US$50,754 - as the Ministry of Finance demands,.

However, Chouleng is far more concerned about how the revelations might affect his

reputation rather than his pocketbook.

"[I'm afraid] most people will say this is fraud... That word is very strong,"

he said. "But I did this for humanitarian assistance, like I've done for Cambodians

for the past twenty-two years."

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