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AIDS fund fraud alleged

AIDS patient Sem Khorn is attended to by his wife Van Ren inside a hospice at the Wat Opot Buddhist temple in the Takeo province, 50 kilometres south of Phnom Penh.  Reuters

The head of the National AIDS Authority and three of his closest officials have used funds intended for AIDS awareness campaigns for their personal use, documents received by the Post yesterday allege.

The documents sent by an NAA official include invoices, receipts and photographs, detailing a litany of alleged fraud from inflating the price for purchasing condoms to skimming funds earmarked for use by provincial offices.

The official who sent the documents said corruption and financial irregularities were widespread at the NAA because its chairperson, senior minister Nuth Sokhom, and three senior officials had manipulated its procurement unit for their personal gain.

“Their activities violate the law and are corrupt,” the official, who requested anonymity, said.

The NAA leads and implements the government’s HIV/AIDS prevention, control and treatment strategy in partnership with UNAIDS, UNICEF and the Global Fund, among others.

“We want the Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate corruption within the NAA,” the official said. A second NAA official, who also asked not to be named, confirmed the allegations were known by numerous staff but declined to comment further.The official who sent the documents said he contacted the Post because the ACU had yet to investigate a complaint forwarded to it by NAA staff six months ago.

Nuth Sokhom and three senior officials took a 10 per cent cut from all operational funds sent to NAA provincial branches between February and July, about US$180,000, the documents allege.

Nuth Sokhom and the three officials were also rigging bids for office equipment and campaign banners, NAA officials said. Prices for T-shirts for AIDS awareness campaigns and condoms had been inflated, they said. The T-shirts cost $1 apiece but were being billed at $1.5 each, while condoms purchased by the NAA cost more than those sold at retail outlets, they said.

The documents allege that three senior NAA officials had become involved in the NAA’s procurement unit, contravening a 2006 sub-decree on public procurement that restricts procurement officials from other roles within their ministry or governmental institution.

NAA deputy secretary general Aing Sambo, NAA director of the department of administration and finance Chhim Khindareth and his deputy, Chhun Vanthy, had mismanaged funds from both the government and international donors, the documents allege. NAA deputy secretary general Aing Sambo, who oversees the administration and procurement units, dismissed the allegations as a personal attack, telling the Post he had committed no wrongdoing.

The NAA is audited annually, he added.

Nuth Sokhom could not be reached for comment. Chhim Khindareth declined to comment and Chhun Vanthy could not be reached for comment.

ACU spokesman Keo Remy was not aware of a complaint against the NAA, but said that the unit had a backlog of complaints to investigate because it had received “so many”.



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