A New York-based legal group claimed Thursday that there have been allegations of corruption and government kickbacks at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, and called for them to be investigated thoroughly and quickly.
“Serious allegations that Cambodian court personnel, including judges, must kick back a significant percentage of their wages to Cambodian government officials in exchange for their positions on the court, are undermining the credibility of the ECCC,” the Open Society Justice Initiative said in a statement.
The group did not name its sources, and ECCC press officer Reach Sambath was quick to dismiss the charges.
“It’s not true,” he said, adding that he does not pay any of his salary to the government.
“I give zero percent,” he said.
The UN Development Program, which oversees more than $6 million in funds donated to the court, has commissioned an external audit of the human resources practices on the Cambodian side of the ECCC, court officials said. This is the first such review since the court began its work, and the results are expected within 10 days, Reach Sambath said.
Representatives from countries that have donated money to the court and the UNDP had little to say about the ongoing inquiry, which comes after months of unsubstantiated rumors about kickbacks.
“As indicated by HE Sean Visoth, an audit process is underway. We do not yet have the auditor’s findings,” UNDP spokesman Men Kimseng wrote in an e-mail.
One senior foreign diplomat said on condition of anonymity that if the allegations are true, “it will be of very grave concern.”
Officials from the Japanese and French embassies did not return calls seeking comment. Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment.
Within the court itself, reactions were mixed.
One senior ECCC official said he had never made such a contribution, but that if he was asked to do so, he would.
“I have a strong will to donate some of my salary if there are suggestions or appeals from the government or other concerned departments,” he said on condition of anonymity.
“Donating some of our salary is for humanitarian purposes. It is not corruption,” he added.
Nil Non, the director of Battambang provincial court and the president of the Cambodian side of the trial chamber, said his salary was too low to sacrifice any part of it.
“I definitely will not donate some percentage of my salary to help the trial,” he said.
Ou Ra, a driver for the ECCC, said he too was unaware of the alleged kickbacks. The only deduction he says he pays is $2 a month for banking services to the Foreign Trade Bank.
“If there are serious charges of corruption, they should be investigated, on either side of the court,” ECCC public affairs officer Peter Foster said Thursday. He said the UN side of the court is subject to regular internal audits.
The Cambodian side of the court has already undergone two financial spot checks—one conducted in November and the other in January—neither of which found serious irregularities, Reach Sambath said.
A copy of the findings from the first spot check, which covered the period June to October, was viewed by a reporter. Morison, Kak et Associes, a Phnom Penh accounting firm, examined monies received, salary payments and financial reporting and found no irregularities in any area. But the report also stated that in a more thorough review, “other matters might have come to our attention.”
Key Kak, a managing partner at Morison Kak, said in an interview Thursday that a more thorough audit of the Cambodian side of the court would be conducted by his firm in April. The spot checks, he said, are “just to know that the expenses and receipts have been received correctly.”
Morison Kak is not conducting the UNDP-commissioned human resources review, and it was unclear Thursday who was.
Theary Seng, executive director of the Center for Social Development, said that if they were true, the allegations would be unsurprising.
“The ECCC is just an extension of the national system,” she said. “It is just an extension of the society and the society is corrupt,” she claimed.
Financial irregularities have plagued other international criminal courts, most notably the International Criminal Court of Rwanda, where the UN found evidence that defendants had demanded kickbacks from their defense council.
(Reporting by Erika Kinetz, Douglas Gillison and Kuch Naren.)