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Cop at centre of $700,000 graft case

Meanchey district police chief Hy Narin is led away in handcuffs yesterday at Phnom Penh Municipal Court
Meanchey district police chief Hy Narin is led away in handcuffs yesterday at Phnom Penh Municipal Court after being questioned. Hong Menea

Cop at centre of $700,000 graft case

When Meanchey district police chief Hy Narin was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on Wednesday, his colleagues, superiors and ACU officials were tight-lipped on what laws the senior law enforcement officer was accused of breaking.

But as a letter posted to the ACU website yesterday – and dated the same day as the October 1 arrest – shows, this isn’t your average corruption case.

Narin, who has not been charged yet and was questioned by a Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor yesterday, allegedly embezzled nearly $700,000 using a total of eight diverse and rather creative schemes and scams.

He is suspected of taking the salaries of ghost employees from 2006 to 2014, demanding that individuals pay more than the official price for a family book – an official register used for documentation purposes – and soliciting funds to train his forces to control demonstrations.

The ACU says he also took money from motorbike owners who hadn’t paid tax; sold off seized motorbikes; required business owners and some of his own men to kick upstairs to him monthly; siphoned off cash from settlements made after traffic accidents; and made his men buy reflective shirts and holsters for their rifles, costs his department was supposed to bear.

After grilling Narin for more than three hours yesterday, Om Sophea, the court prosecutor, decided to send him back to the ACU for the time being. “Thus far, I have not decided anything. We will continue questioning him,” he said.

Based on information from police witnesses and people living in Meanchey district, in addition to Narin’s own confession, which the ACU says it obtained, Narin did “wrong” by taking “some money for his own benefits”, according to the official statement.

“Some money” here means $678,059, in a country where many police officers made as little as $57 a month in 2013, or just under $2 a day, according to a Transparency International Cambodia (TI) report released in September.

The investigation against Narin took eight months, according to the ACU, but it had been brewing for some time. Oddly, the organisation admitted in its statement that it warned Narin to shape up and “improve”. However, he ignored them.

“In the past, the ACU has received five complaints against Hy Narin, and the ACU has asked him to clarify and to improve twice, but he seems to turn a blind eye, continuing to commit the same faults,” the statement says.

Anti-corruption advocates yesterday said graft is rifer in organisations with muscle.

“This is quite common and is seen worse in the police forces and armies,” said Preap Kol, executive director TI, in an email. Kol added that he applauded the ACU for the arrest.

Last month, TI Cambodia released a baseline report on corruption in the Kingdom, placing the judiciary and law enforcement agencies lowest in the organisation’s “national integrity” rankings.

In TI’s Global Corruption Barometer report from last year, 65 per cent of respondents to a survey said that they had paid a bribe to both the police and the judiciary within the past 12 months.

San Chey, a coordinator with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, said corruption among police institutions had become “virtually habitual” and had made the public lose trust in them.

“They are the coordinators of people who need them, but they instead use their roles to extort money from people, taking the law into their own hands, which they do for their own benefit only,” he said.

ACU spokesman Keo Remy, National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith and Phnom Penh Municipal Police chief Choun Sovann could not be reached for comment yesterday.

While the court decides whether to pursue charges, those who have worked under Narin will be watching, some with evident satisfaction.

Born Vuthy, Prek Eng commune police chief, said Narin was always putting pressure on his subordinates to hand over “greenbacks”, and that the ACU allegations were true.

“He ordered us to get money from people – 50,000 riel ($12.50) for each family book, which is free of charge by law, but if we do not follow him, he will punish us immediately,” Vuthy said. “He treats his subordinates so badly. I do not know to whom he pays the money or if he just keeps it for himself.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JOE FREEMAN

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