Bribe Charges Are Baseless, Sok An Says

Minister of Cabinet Sok An has blasted National Assembly members for bringing bribery allegations against him with no real evidence.

In a terse July 22 letter to opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay, Sok An called the accusations “arrogant” and said the National Assembly may have overstepped its constitutional authority by accusing him of taking money from Ariston, the owner of the last casino in Phnom Penh.

“The right given by the Con­stitution to the MP is to raise questions to the executive body, not to bring charges against the minister,” Sok An wrote. “You’d better raise the question first…. What you have done so far is acted as a prosecutor by charging without proof.”

He did not directly deny taking $1 million to help keep the Naga Floating Casino open.

Son Chhay, who earlier in July wrote Sok An asking him to explain reports that he took a bribe from Ariston, defended his inquiry Thursday, saying it was based on information received from an unidentified ambassador and a government minister.

Son Chhay maintained that, despite his written response to the National Assembly, Sok An failed to answer his question.

“My question is simple. Did he or did he not take a bribe?” Son Chhay said. “I do not see an answer from him. This is not acceptable.”

despite his written response to the National Assembly, Sok An failed to answer his question.

“My question is simple. Did he or did he not take a bribe?” Son Chhay said. “I do not see an answer from him. This is not acceptable.”

In his letter, Son Chhay also implied that Sok An had influenced the courts to allow the Naga casino to stay open, despite a government ban on casinos within 200 km of Phnom Penh.

In late June, the Municipal Court ruled that Naga could remain open indefinitely. The casino will continue to operate while the government decides if it has to honor a 20-year contract signed with Ariston in 1995.

Two weeks after the court ruling. Ariston flew several top government officials—including Sok An—and their families to one of its Malaysian resorts for a three-day stay, according to Malaysian press reports.

The bribery allegations are likely to be discussed at today’s meeting of the National Assembly’s Permanent Committee, said Son Chhay, who is calling for an investigation into trips Sok An took to Malaysia, where he claims the money was accepted.

Son Chhay also dismissed Sok An’s claim that the National Assembly is trying to exert too much power over the government.

“I have a right to question the government. This is a test of parliament. Is parliament going to be a rubber stamp or a strong parliament?” Son Chhay said.

Since March, when Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to a request from National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, lawmakers have had the right to call ministers in for questioning sessions on Thursdays.

In the past, Council of Ministers spokesman Khieu Thavika has denied the bribery allegations, calling them incorrect.

However, several CPP officials have been uncharacteristically silent when asked about the charges. Most said they simply did not know if they were true and referred calls to Sok An. (Additional reporting by Ham Samnang)

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