Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - High level payoffs alleged in adoption case

High level payoffs alleged in adoption case

High level payoffs alleged in adoption case

Lauryn Galindo, the former US adoption facilitator sentenced to prison in the United

States on November 19, "bought political capital in Cambodia in order to make

her adoption business more profitable," according to a former close associate.

Documents presented to the Seattle court that sentenced Galindo included a letter

from investigators to Galindo's lawyers summarizing an interview with Dr Nancy Hendrie.

Hendrie, who works with Cambodian orphans via The Sharing Foundation (TSF), told

US investigators that "Lauryn Galindo's three highest political benefactors

in Cambodia were Chea Sim, [Prime Minister Hun Sen's wife] Bun Runy (sic) and [Minister

for Social Affairs] Ith Sam Heng," according to the letter.

The letter quotes Hendrie saying Galindo was an "evil person who attempted to

portray herself as a humanitarian in order to achieve her monetary goals."

The letter alleges that cash payments were made directly by Galindo to some of the

most senior figures in the Cambodian political establishment.

"Lauryn Galindo received access to these individuals by providing them with

large cash payments. Dr Nancy Hendrie stated that she witnessed cash payments being

made directly to both Chea Sim and Bun Runy(sic) by Lauryn Galindo. On one occasion,

Lauryn Galindo gave Bun Runy (sic) $4,000 in cash in a white envelope. Payments to

Ith Sam Heng were made through an intermediary named Heang Veasna," the letter

states.

The Prime Minister's advisor, Om Yienteang, said he knew nothing of the allegations

against Bun Rany. "I am advisor to Samdech Hun Sen, not his wife," he said.

Hendrie said she had been misrepresented in the letter when asked about its contents

by the Post. She said her lawyer took meticulous notes that supported her account

of the interview.

"I have never witnessed any Cambodian official take money for other than charitable

purposes," she wrote in an emailed response.

"Some of what you have read is definitely a misquote: I said that I saw Lauryn

hand cash to Bun Rany Hun Sen at the time of the terrible floods in 1999 when BR

Hun Sen was Red Cross President and this money was specifically for rice for the

poor to be given through the Red Cross. I DID NOT state that I ever saw money given

to Ith Sam Heng or to Chea Sim, as I did NOT see this at any time," she wrote.

Chea Sim is chairman of the Senate and the CPP. A spokesperson for him also rejected

the allegations.

Kunthea Borey, Chea Sim's chief of protocol, said payments made by Galindo were not

bribes.

"She contributed humanitarian aid for Cambodian orphans, she supported them

with some equipment for education such as books, clothes, shoes, bags," Borey

said.

Borey said the pair had only infrequent contact and Chea Sim was in no position to

help her since adoptions were controlled by the Ministry of Social Affairs.

However, in interviews Galindo has described Sim as "like a father to me",

and Sim intervened on her behalf in 1999 when Foreign Minister Hor Namhong was pushing

for an investigation into bribery allegations against her.

At the time Sim wrote to the co-interior ministers Sar Kheng and You Hokry to request

that adoptions by Galindo be approved.

Galindo was the self-styled pioneer of the Cambodian adoption system that has been

rife with allegations of bribery and child trafficking for more than a decade.

Her trial highlighted the web of corrupt practices surrounding adoptions, the high

profits made by adoption facilitators and the bitter relations between figures involved

with adoption in Cambodia.

Galindo's defense conceded that corrupt payments were made, but asserted that it

was common practice and pointed the finger at others, including Hendrie, for engaging

in identical practices.

Hendrie said no TSF project was connected to adoption. "If adoption ever reopens

in Cambodia, I do not want anything to do with it," she wrote.

She also wrote that her statements about Galindo "relate to my disgust with

the millions of dollars she brought in for her own personal use, and how she preached

kindly acts while establishing off-shore accounts, buying pearls with adoption money,

and almost never doing ANYTHING for 'her' orphanages where minimal standards of water,

food, housing, hygiene, and medical care were often not met."

Court documents also pointed to a range of payments made through intermediaries to

low level government officials in order to facilitate adoptions.

Ouch Syphalla Pole (known as Mr Pol), Galindo's driver, was identified in the defense

submission as a man in whom Galindo placed her "entire unquestioned trust"

from 1997 onwards. Galindo, the defense attorney said, gave $3,500 to Mr Pol to "obtain

necessary paperwork from the Ministries".

However, Pol denied the allegation when contacted by the Post, saying he was simply

her driver, and that she had dealt with all government officials directly. The defense

argued that Galindo was naïve about some of the practices of her associates

and that charitable works mitigated her crimes.

But according to the pro-secution's submission, "two of Galindo's associates

in Cambodia who located children for adoption told investigators that Galindo knew

that payments were being made to birth mothers to induce them to give up their child

for adoption."

US District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly concluded that Galindo's "charitable

work made it possible to commit the crimes."

Galindo pleaded guilty to visa fraud and money laundering in July. She has been sentenced

to serve 18 months in prison, three years of supervised release, 300 hours of community

service and pay more than $60,000 dollars in restitution to several former clients.

The judge also ordered her to forfeit the proceeds of her crimes to the US government

in the form of her $1.4 million home in the US state of Hawaii and money to the value

of her Jaguar.

A November 19 press release from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement described

Galindo's matching of Cambodian children with US parents as a "conspiracy [that]

involved alien smuggling, visa fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, money laundering,

and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act."

"From January 1997 to December 2001, the conspirators operated a scheme to defraud

U.S. citizens who adopted some 700 children from Cambodia," according to the

release.

"They received approximately $8 million dollars from adoptive parents in the

United States, and then lived lavish lifestyles in Seattle, Hawaii, and Cambodia,"

it goes on to say.

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