Anti-Corruption Unit head Om Yentieng suggested his agency was unable to investigate apparent widespread bribe-taking among officials in relation to two large cockfighting rings owned by a relative of Hun Sen, insinuating there were no grounds for an inquiry despite reams of evidence to the contrary.
Speaking to hundreds of journalists yesterday in Phnom Penh at a workshop, Yentieng appeared to say that local authorities bowed to pressure from owner Thai Phany, who is the nephew-in-law of the prime minister.
“[The owner] is not afraid of anyone, only Prime Minister Hun Sen,” Yentieng said. “Do you see? He is not afraid of the police chief, he is not afraid of anyone – including the provincial governor and the Ministry of Interior.”
When asked why the Kandal provincial authorities allowed the ring to operate for so long, Yentieng said: “It doesn’t mean they didn’t want to [stop it], but they couldn’t.”
After his two cockfighting rings in Kandal and Takeo were raided earlier this month – seemingly on direct orders from Hun Sen – Phany turned himself in and was charged with running an illegal gambling operation.
However, a trove of documents left behind by police at the cockfighting ring in Kandal showed what appeared to be a network of payments to local authorities, including police and government officials.
Independent observers called for an investigation staffed by a multi-stakeholder body or the ACU, but Yentieng dismissed the case at the time as “old rice”.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International, said that only the public can judge now.
“When competent authorities fail to perform their duties to properly investigate allegations of crimes, they consciously allow the existence of impunities,” Kol said.
Kandal Provincial Governor Mao Phirun, meanwhile, denied that he or his officials were cowed by fear of Phany or his relatives yesterday. “If we were scared, why did we come to crack down?” Phirun said.
He also raised the possibility that documents showing payments to local authorities and journalists could have been fabricated by Phany “to show others that he has influence with the court, police, village chief and commune chief”.
Yentieng said much the same thing about a document that appears to show bribes to officials in Takeo province – a copy of which was also found at the Kandal cockfighting ring by Post reporters last weekend.
“Can we take action based on just one piece of paper? They can write whatever they want,” Yentieng said to journalists at the workshop. “Is there anyone responsible for that paper?”
The extensive documents recovered in Kandal, however, amount to far more than a single piece of paper.
They included not only handwritten ledgers of payoffs, but an original Wing receipt showing $200 being sent to the cellphone number of the district police chief, notebooks recording payments to “TV media” and “police” and a list of “monthly salary payments” to 40 locals – including the village chief and commune chief.
They even included an official letter from the commune police chief asking Phany for money to fix the police station’s roof.
Yentieng and his deputy, Kheang Seng, could not be reached for further comment yesterday. Another ACU deputy, Nuon Bophal, refused to comment on the issue.
Yentieng also said that the ACU will not investigate local journalists who received money from the cockfighting ring, saying that they accepted the money “under pressure”.
He added that it is not wrong for journalists to accept money unless they are “civil servant journalists” who work for a government ministry.