Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) Chairman Om Yentieng said on Monday that he would look into the possibility that deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha facilitated human trafficking to the U.S. under the guise of business trips.
The accusation was made during a conference at the ACU’s headquarters in Phnom Penh by Sam Phalla—a woman who has claimed for years to be the mother of a spurned mistress of Mr. Sokha, and has filed a number of complaints against him.
With reporters looking on, Mr. Yentieng questioned Ms. Phalla over a claim that she had sold her home and given the $10,000 to Mr. Sokha on the understanding that he would repay her. The ACU chief decided the complaint was beyond his mandate, before the back-and-forth took a different direction.
“He used to take people abroad as his personal secretaries, and they gave him $20,000 each,” Ms. Phalla said. “When they arrived in America, their relatives came to take them, I heard him say.”
She added that Mr. Sokha gave her daughter, Keo Sophannary, $4,000 he had received in the form of political donations.
Mr. Yentieng said further investigation was required to determine whether the alleged sums were legally obtained and spent by Mr. Sokha.
“The woman described how Kem Sokha went abroad and solicited money for political campaigns and took $4,000 to give to her daughter…. That is one problem,” he said, summarizing Ms. Phalla’s claims.
“Secondly, the woman said that when His Excellency Kem Sokha went abroad, he took people as secretaries and America gave them visas. Exactly who went with him and paid him $20,000?” he added. “Is that human trafficking or not?”
Mr. Yentieng said the ACU would request cooperation from the U.S. Embassy in its investigation into Mr. Sokha’s trips abroad.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Jay Raman said he was aware of Mr. Yentieng’s remarks but could not comment on a potential request for cooperation.
In a separate case, Mr. Yentieng rejected a complaint against National Election Committee (NEC) members filed with the ACU last week by Ros Sarom, president of the NGO Victory Intelligent Standard Association. The complaint accuses a handful of NEC members of nepotism for their hiring practices.
“There were no pieces of information that were evidence of corruption, so we could not accept your complaint,” Mr. Yentieng told Mr. Sarom.
“You said the clue that pointed toward corruption was the fact that they had promoted relatives,” he said. “The Anti-Corruption Law does not state that recruiting your relatives is corruption.”
Mr. Yentieng came under criticism in April for appointing two of his sons as assistants at the ACU, defending the decision by challenging critics to defeat his sons in a series of contests, including “fighting to free a hostage from terrorists and jumping from an airplane.”
(Additional reporting by Taylor O’Connell)