The Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) has been unable to find evidence corroborating claims that a Health Ministry official has been demanding bribes to allow vehicles to cross the Bavet International Checkpoint in Svay Rieng province, it said in a report obtained Tuesday.
Dated October 9 and posted to the ACU’s website, the report says that Ngau Sokha, a Health Ministry official stationed at the checkpoint to inspect imports and exports of animals, had been accused of soliciting bribes from tourist buses and container trucks crossing the checkpoint.
According to the accusations made to the ACU, Mr. Sokha was demanding a total of $200 for the approximately 60 tourist buses that pass through each day, $90 per 2,000 tourists passing through daily, and $220 per 100 trucks passing each day. The report adds that the ACU found no evidence to substantiate the claims.
ACU investigations department director Khun Sambo said the anti-graft unit was prepared to conduct further investigations into Mr. Sokha if the people who filed the complaint came forward with new evidence.
“We posted the report of the complaint to the ACU’s website to give answers to the complainants that we could not find Mr. Sokha guilty, but if those people do not agree with our explanation, they can file another complaint if they have more evidence,” Mr. Sambo said.
“We went to that area and investigated the case but we could not find Mr. Ngau Sokha guilty like the accusations from the complainant,” he said.
“The ACU giving the answer…that we could not find Mr. Sokha guilty does not mean we deny this person committed the crime,” he added. “But we have not yet found the guilt.”
Bavet commune police chief Mao Phinphirum said he believed Mr. Sokha and the officials working under him at the Bavet checkpoint were in fact from the Interior Ministry’s general department of immigration, and not the Health Ministry.
However, Kerm Sarin, director of the administration department in the Interior Ministry’s general department of immigration, denied those claims, and said the group named in the complaint to the ACU were from the Health Ministry.
Major General Sarin said he had long heard rumors about Health Ministry officials extorting money from border crossers.
“I also used to hear about the scandal about a group of those people extorting money from businesspeople, because they required them to pay extra money to cross the border,” he said.
Health Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann could not be reached.
In recent months, the ACU’s website has been regularly updated with letters claiming corruption by government officials, usually accompanied by a response from officials denying the claims.
ACU chairman Om Yentieng has explained that by making the claims public, the unit hopes to receive more evidence in order to strengthen otherwise flimsy cases.