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Former NGO chief denies abuse claims

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A child receives a checkup at Sovann Komar children’s village. Fresh News

Former NGO chief denies abuse claims

The former executive director of international NGO Sovann Komar LLC has denied allegations of serious child abuse and fraud while working for the NGO, which runs a children’s village for over 50 teenagers.

The abuse allegations include torture, starvation, acts of cruelty and neglect of minors under the age of 15, said a court summons issued by Investigating Judge Hok Pov on May 4.

Sothea Arun is also accused of misusing $1.4 million of the organisation’s money, according to a Sovann Komar press release.

Arun claims that the accusations have been manufactured by people conspiring to take over the organisation.

His denial comes after Sovann Komar, which is based in the capital’s Meanchey district in Veal Sbov commune, sued Arun and former staff members in October 2019 for abusing children and fraud.

Arun told The Post on Monday that he created the organisation almost 20 years ago with three other foreign founders who live in the US.

It ran smoothly, he said, and could feed around 100 orphans and 30 employees at a cost of about $40,000 a month.

But then the organisation began to have internal disputes which caused the dismissal of nearly 20 people, including him, after the death of one of the US co-founders.

Arun said he was accused of embezzlement by a small group of dissenting staffers and suggested an internal investigation, which was denied.

He said the accusers blamed him for losing millions of dollars but questioned the plausibility of such an accusation because withdrawing funds required signatures from each owner of the NGO.

The Post could not contact Kara Heide on Monday. She is a Sovann Komar employee who helped bring the accusations to light.

A 19-year-old orphan known as Syo was expelled from the Sovann Komar children’s village after protesting and showing dissatisfaction with the case.

Syo told The Post on Monday that following the accusations, foster parents were removed from the orphanage, which affected his studies.

He said other orphans had come under fire from the new leadership as well.

“They started to feel very depressed and dropped out of school, feeling very emotional. We all need a family near us, and we have already had broken families once,” he said.

Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation spokesperson Toch Channy told The Post that the ministry tried to assist in the case but no solution could be found. Both parties sued and the case fell outside the ministry’s jurisdiction.

Bradley Gordon, the legal representative for Sovann Komar told The Post on Monday that evidence against Arun includes photographs, emails, reports and extensive testimonies from witnesses.

Gordon said the criminal complaints of abuse and fraud against Arun have resulted in two prosecutors recommending charges against him.

He said over the last eight months, Arun has attempted to subvert justice by lobbying senior government officials to interfere in the court proceedings against him.

Arun also accused a Sovann Komar lawyer of armed robbery and manipulated minors at the Sovann Komar children’s village, he said.

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