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Concert drama: ACU chief in ‘puppet’ complaint

Concert drama
Anticorruption Unit head Om Yentieng refused to dance to the tune of the United States at an anti-graft concert in 2009 at which US ambassador Carol Rodley suggested the Kingdom was losing US$500 million a year from kickbacks.

The anti-graft czar reportedly said he pulled out of the ‘Clean Hands’ concert because USAID funded organisers PACT Cambodia treated him like a “puppet”, failing to inform him of the content of six songs and additional comedy routines targeting corruption, WikiLeaks cables reveal.

“Because he was not informed of the content of the anti-corruption show and yet he was being asked to speak at and sponsor it, he was treated like a ‘puppet’ and withdrew at the last minute,” a cable from Rodley in June 2009 read.

Rodley’s estimate that the Kingdom lost $500 million a year through corruption elicited an angry response from the Cambodian government, with Om Yentieng, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Council of Ministers all issuing stiff rebukes at the time.

“I don't think Madame Ambassador would consider herself as opposition [to the government] because we have an opposition party already,” Om Yentieng said at the time.

Behind closed doors, he reportedly went further, saying the public remarks could cause “hatred among the people,” and hinted at the possibility of official interviews of the comedians and singers involved in the performance, the cable states.

The performers apparently kowtowed to government pressure not to serenade the crowd with the tones of Cambodia’s underbelly, instead singing “only romantic songs.”

“If artists say or doing anything wrong they could face either the public (NOTE: presumably mob violence. END NOTE), or they could face legal action,” the cable recounts Om Yentieng saying.

PACT Cambodia had signed a contract with the government agreeing not to perform songs that attacked the government, it continues, and the organisers along with municipal officials were later interviewed by officials.

In the ensuing brouhaha Rodley sought to mollify the Cambodian People's Party while reserving her right to raise concerns over corrupt practices that affected US investors.

But in private Rodley, who referred to herself as the “westerner speaking an inconvenient truth”, fired some stinging barbs at Om Yentieng, the cable reveals.   

“The head of the Anti-Corruption Unit…appears to want to control all messages about the extent of corruption in Cambodia,” Rodley’s cable reads.

“We doubt that he is flabbergasted when confronted with the reality: corruption stares Cambodians in the face on a regular basis and they do not need the government to tell them how much it does or does not cost -- they are the ones who pay.”

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