Anti-Corruption Unit Reports on Health Sector Bribe Case

The government’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on Tuesday delivered its latest report on its review of allegations of massive bribe taking inside the Health Ministry leveled by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria in November.

Officials on Wednesday were mum about the review, however, and about how they planned to handle a request from the Global Fund to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars that were siphoned off by corrupt officials.

After a yearslong audit of its past grants to Cambodia, the Global Fund released a detailed report in November accusing health officials—who have since left their jobs—of taking more than $400,000 in bribes to secure contracts for overseas mosquito net suppliers. The NGO Medicam was also found to have overcharged the Global Fund by nearly $21,000.

Prak Sok, vice chairman of the Anti-Corruption Council, which oversees the ACU’s work, confirmed Wednesday that the ACU reported to the Council on its review of the Global Fund corruption report and its allegations at a meeting on Tuesday.

“We discussed a lot about the Global Fund problem in the meeting but I cannot talk a lot about this case,” he said. “This was a private meeting, so I cannot elaborate.”

ACU Vice Chairman Chhay Savuth also declined to comment.

Since the Global Fund revelations, Medicam and government health officials have deflected responsibility for the years of well-documented bribe taking, downplaying its significance, and questioned the alleged scope of corruption.

In a December 9 letter to Health Minister Mam Bun Heng, the Global Fund asked the ministry and Medicam to repay a combined $473,000 within 30 days or risk losing out on all—or a portion of—a pending $106 million in Global Fund grants to the country.

Officials at Medicam and the Health Ministry have declined or ignored repeated requests to comment on the letter, and whether they intend to pay back the money that was pocketed.

The $106 million the Global Fund is threatening to withhold would have significant consequences across the country’s severely under-resourced health sector.

Last week, Global Fund spokesman Seth Faison said the Global Fund would try to not let a suspension of funds jeopardize any lives.

“We are always careful not to put lives at risk. When it is necessary to suspend or reduce grants, we work hard to find alternatives that provide a continuation of service for those affected,” he said, but would not elaborate on how it might do so.

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