The government planned to shut down the Open Society Justice Initiative, an international group monitoring the Khmer Rouge tribunal, after the NGO called for an investigation into alleged court corruption in 2007, according to a United States cable made public yesterday.
Claims that staff on the Cambodian side of the court were forced to pay kickbacks to their supervisors surfaced in 2006, and OSJI called for an investigation in February 2007. Court staff reiterated the claims to The Post in 2009. Court administrator Sean Visoth was allegedly at the centre of the scandal and international donors and the United Nations sought his dismissal.
According to a diplomatic cable from the US embassy in Phnom Penh marked “confidential” and signed by Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli, Sean Visoth allegedly revealed the plan to close OSJI during a meeting on March 11, 2007, with the former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes David Scheffer. The scheme was reportedly approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.
“Vissoth confirmed for Scheffer that he (Vissoth) had been instructed by DPM Sok An to construct a chronology of the OSJI affair that would be used as part of the government’s plan to shut down the office,” Mussomeli said. “The order had been given at a recent wedding ceremony where the PM and other senior officials had discussed the matter.”
Other cables released yesterday recount negotiations between donors, the UN and the government that eventually led to the creation in 2009 of an “independent counselor” at the court designed to allow staff to make complaints about corruption without fear of reprisal.
The cables also show that the Cambodian government was allegedly reluctant during negotiations to sack Sean Visoth in the face of donor pressure.
Piper Campbell US embassy Chargé d’Affairs, reported in a confidential cable sent on November 3, 2008, that Sok An said the concerns over Sean Visoth and corruption “were a distraction from the goals of the court”. Campbell added that Sok An “made several pointed criticisms of the UN, all but asserting that UN meddling was intended to mar Cambodia’s significant contributions to the KRT and to assert UN dominance over it”.
Yesterday, a source at the court, who requested anonymity, said details of Sean Visoth’s position were still “not clear” and the issue remained “sensitive”.
Court spokesman Neth Pheaktra said Sean Visoth had not received any salary from the court since he ceased working there over two years ago.