Attempts to combat corruption at the highest level are hampered by the sheer body of evidence needed to secure a conviction, as well as the powerful connections of those involved, according to Anti-Corruption Unit chief Om Yentieng.
His statements – a seeming attempt to deflect criticisms about his agency’s effectiveness – came yesterday during a parliamentary workshop on corruption held at the National Assembly, in which Yentieng highlighted the fact that “three tiers” of hard proof were needed for legal action to be considered. Such proof includes photo, video and audio evidence, he said.
“It’s not easy to make even one corrupt official plead guilty, because they are strong, wise, rich and well-connected,” Yentieng said.
The anti-corruption chief also highlighted how, though the ACU is able to launch investigations without going through the court system, reliance on the judiciary will always remain part of any legal process to bring corrupt officials to justice.
“The law gives the president of the ACU the right without asking the court to investigate, follow and search, but I ask you, when arresting a judge and sending him to be tried, does the ACU try him? No, he is given to another judge to be tried,” he said.
Yentieng has previously been criticised by lawmakers for maintaining a close relationship with the former president of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Ang Maltey, who was removed from his position in February after he released on bail the parents of Thong Sarath. The tycoon is accused of murdering businessman Ung Meng Cheu in November.
However, Yentieng has always maintained his relationship with Maltey was purely professional and refused to answer questions on the matter from reporters yesterday.
In a report released last year, the International Labour Organization estimated that corruption costs Cambodia’s economy some $1.7 billion annually – about 10 per cent of the Kingdom’s GDP.
Opposition officials have also estimated that corruption drains some $500 million in Cambodian government revenue every year.
Sok Sam Oeun, an independent legal expert, said it would take Cambodia 20 years to fully overcome the corruption it is currently beset by.
While he noted strides had been made by the Ministry of Education – with national exam results plummeting last year when a major crackdown was launched on institutionalised cheating – Sam Oeun said graft remains rife in many government departments.