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AIDS office denies fraud

Senior officials at the National AIDS Authority yesterday dismissed allegations that its chair and three close aides had siphoned funds for AIDS awareness campaigns for personal use, but said a committee had been formed to investigate the charges and that some “facilitation fees” had been paid in transfers of funds from the national to provincial offices.

Kao Try, deputy chief of the NAA, said the investigative committee was formed on December 15, two days after the Post reported that staff at the NAA had accused the officials of widespread fraud. The allegations ranged from inflating the price for purchasing condoms to skimming funds earmarked for use by provincial offices. The report was based on interviews as well as documents sent to the Post, including invoices, receipts and photographs.  

Kao Try said the allegations that NAA staff had misused national and international funds were false and personally motivated.

The investigative committee’s probe is ongoing, he said. Kao Try is leading the committee and nine other officials from the NAA are on it, he said.  

The allegations, from NAA staff who asked not to be named, were made against its chair, senior minister Nuth Sokhom; NAA deputy secretary general Aing Sambo; the director of the NAA’s department of administration and finance, Chhim Khin Dareth; and his deputy, Chhun Vanthy.

The senior officials were alleged to have violated a 2006 sub-decree on public procurement that restricts procurement officials from taking other roles within their ministry or governmental institution. Kao Try said the officials had more than one position because the NAA did not have a separate procurement department within it.

Sin Kim Sen, deputy head of NAA, said that the committee would investigate every allegation raised. These included that bids for office equipment and campaign banners were rigged, and that prices for T-shirts for AIDS awareness campaigns were inflated by 50 per cent, while the price paid for condoms was higher than the price charged by retail outlets.

“All spending at NAA is audited by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and National Audit Authority,” Sin Kim Sen said.

Kao Try admitted that a “facilitation fee” was paid during transfers of funds from the national to provincial offices, but said the amount was just US$718, and not the $180,000 alleged.

“There is no policy to cut money [from funds sent by the NAA to provincial offices]. There was a facilitation fee for those who wanted money and the official who gives money,” Kao Try said, adding that the officials had been “warned” against this.

He said the “NAA received only about $100,000 per year” and each provincial branch received about 10 million riel (about $2,488).

He also said that Cambodia’s failure to receive funding for projects from Round 10 of the Global Fund was not related to any allegations of corruption.

Tim Vora, executive director of the HIV/AIDS Coordinating Committee, said earlier this month that Cambodian projects had failed to gain funding from Round 10 due to technical problems with proposals submitted.  

He said yesterday that there should be an investigation if misconduct was found at the NAA and that an external investigation would be better than an internal one.

Officials from the Anti-Corruption Unit could not be reached for comment. NAA officials who contacted the Post said the ACU had failed to investigate a complaint they filed with it six months ago. ACU spokesman Keo Remy said last week that it had a backlog of complaints to investigate because it had received so many.

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