Forestry officials in Kampong Thom province are to be the subject of a corruption probe into alleged bribery of anti-corruption officials, according to a letter published by Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) chief Om Yentieng.
The allegations centre around claims made anonymously to the ACU by villagers in Santuk district that Forestry Administration officials in the province have paid anti-corruption investigators to look the other way when claims of graft are levelled against them.
Yentieng said yesterday that he had received an anonymous letter containing allegations that ACU officials had been paid sums of up to $5,000 to ignore requests to call provincial Forestry Administration officials in for questioning.
“Firstly, we want to see individual government institutions be transparent, therefore we made a public announcement about the attack and criticism against us; most importantly we want to be a model for others that ensures transparency,” he said.
“Secondly, we will investigate to collect more relevant information as evidence about the allegation of corruption before we will open an investigation.”
Yentieng did not comment about whether there was a conflict of interest in the ACU investigating its own staff.
The ACU received the letter containing the allegations on March 23, but only recently published it on its website, he added.
The letter said that conversations had been overheard between Forestry Administration and Ministry of Environment officials where the environment officials had asked why their counterparts in the forestry department seem to be routinely overlooked by the ACU and were left in peace to extort money from timber smugglers.
The environment official went on to praise the head of the Forestry Department in the district, who recently won a promotion after allegedly “making good money” for his superiors, which the letter’s author said was evidence of a conspiracy of corruption.
“An official from the Environmental Unit would be dismissed if misconduct such as this was discovered, but that is not the case [for] an official from the Forestry Administration, because they are free to continue to extort money from the vehicles transporting rosewood,” the letter read.
A forestry officer at the meeting allegedly responded to the environment official that in order to operate more freely it would be in his interest to bribe the ACU.
“When he was invited to Phnom Penh to answer questions at the ACU, he just gave the ACU officials $5,000 and after that was allowed to go back to his position,” the letter read.
“Three heads of the Forestry Administration who were invited to Phnom Penh for questioning several months ago are now back to work as normal. We would like to appeal to the ACU to please open an investigation into whether their conversations were accurate or not,” it continued.
Eang Sophalleth, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, and Forestry Administration director Chheng Kimsun, could not be reached for comment yesterday.