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Provincial officials in graft warning

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A pair of SUVs passes by the Anticorruption Institution in Phnom Penh yesterday. During January and
February, officials will collect asset declarations from around 100,000 government officials.

Anticorruption Unit head Om Yentieng has reportedly accused several dozen officials in Kampong Thom province, including the provincial governor, of taking bribes from those involved in the illegal logging trade.

A Kampong Thom provincial military police officer said that during a meeting in the province on Thursday to educate local officials about the Kingdom’s newly-implemented Anticorruption Law, Om Yentieng identified by name officials who he said were “black-listed” and under investigation by the ACU.

“There was a closed-door meeting on the sidelines of yesterday’s meeting with the individuals who are on the black list of the ACU, and His Excellency Om Yentieng warned them to immediately stop taking bribes from those who transport illegally logged timber,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“[Om Yentieng] warned that if these officials are discovered taking bribes a second time, they will face law enforcement.”

The military police officer said those on the “black list” included Kampong Thom provincial governor Chhun Chhorn, as well as officials from the provincial police, military police and Forestry Administration.

Chhun Chhorn declined to comment on the allegations.

“I am afraid to give detailed information about the ACU,” he said yesterday. “I cannot talk about that – all information must come directly from the head of the ACU.”

Om Yentieng and ACU spokesman Keo Remy could not be reached for comment yesterday. Kheang Seng, the ACU’s head of law enforcement, said only Om Yentieng had the documents identifying which officials were on the black list.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a crackdown on illegal logging last year and sacked Forestry Administration head Ty Sokun in April for failing to adequately address the issue. However, few officials have been prosecuted as part of the crackdown.

Asset roll call

This week, the ACU will kick off an asset declaration push that is expected to involve around 100,000 government officials. From January 1 to February 28, the ACU will collect information from officials at all levels of government, including the prime minister.

“The law requires us to complete the asset declaration process within 60 days, and we have to fulfill our obligation,” Kheang Seng said.

Officials will be required to declare assets including business interests, property and vehicles that they own, but will not have to disclose their bank account balances, according to a copy of the asset declaration form distributed by the ACU last month. They also are not required to declare the assets of spouses or relatives.

Sek Borisoth, director of the good governance NGO PACT Cambodia, said it would be “impossible” for the ACU to confirm the veracity of every asset declaration it receives, though the declarations could serve as a useful baseline for investigations in the years to come.

“The next one year or two years, officials will need to re-declare, and at that time they could [check] the assets that are declared [this year] to see if there’s any difference,” he said.

In November, the ACU arrested Pursat provincial prosecutor Top Chan Sereyvuth, charging him and two bodyguards with corruption, extortion and false imprisonment.

In December, the unit released a report naming 30 low-level tax officials that had allegedly overcharged motorists during road tax collection. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE

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