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Scores of firms in scandal

Fifty-one foreign compan-ies are said to have been duped by an alleged fraud that has embroiled Senate President Chea Sim’s office and led to the arrest of five officials with close links to him.

Yim Leang, the newly appointed chief of Chea Sim’s bodyguard unit, said yesterday companies from Malaysia, China, Vietnam and South Korea were among those that had complained to the Senate President about the scam.

Fake contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to build schools, roads, hospitals and other humanitarian services were being investigated, Yim Leang said, adding that the suspects were earning commiss-ions from each contract.

“This is a case of cheating the system  . . . in Cambodia. They [the suspects] had been doing these business activities for many years before the scandal broke out and they were arrested,” he alleged.

Yim Leang said he was investigating suspected frauds and forgeries involving 51 companies connected to the case, including a “fake” US$90 million contract with a Vietnamese company to build a road in Svay Rieng province’s Romeas Hek district.

The scam was allegedly led by Chea Sim’s chief of protocol, Pheng Kunthea Borey, who had been charged with fraud and producing fake public documents after allegedly tricking Chea Sim into signing a fake contract with a Malaysian firm seemingly worth $120 million, he said.

“She [Pheng Kunthea Borey] is the only person that Samdech Chea Sim preferred and trusted very much, but she has cheated him and used his name and influence to do her own illegal business.  

“Her activities are the worst, and have also affected [one of] the Cambodian government’s highest ranking-officials as well as the country’s honour and reputation.”

Pheng Kunthea Borey’s lawyer, Kouy Thunna, has denied his client is involved in any wrongdoing and says there is no evidence against her.

Chea Sim’s former advisers Chan Kosal and Ponlork Ho, together with former cabinet member Khieu Bora and former bodyguard chief Chhoeun Chanthan, have been arrested and charged in connection with the alleged fraud.

National Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito said yesterday police were searching for a foreign national who had allegedly helped Pheng Kunthea Borey translate contracts into English, but declined to identify the suspect for fear they would flee the country.

“Our police already have his identity and have received the warrant for his arrest from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. We now are conducting investigations and searching to arrest him,” Kheng Tito said.

The investigation had followed a complaint filed by the Senate President himself that led to the arrest of Chhoeun Chanthan, who implicated the remaining suspects, he added.

Opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua yesterday called the scam the biggest ever revealed in Cambodia, but questioned why the government had taken so long to investigate suspicious activities.

“It’s totally, totally shocking,” she said. “We’re monitoring to make sure that this is really about cleaning up and not a political purge.”

Carlyle Thayer, a professor of political science at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said yesterday it was hardly surprising such a scheme would be uncovered in a “corrupt dictatorship” like Cambodia.

“Don’t get caught with excess. If you’re too greedy, you’ve got to pay a price, and its not usually the top person,” he said.

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