CMAC Closes Probe Into Fire Amid Allegations of Corruption

The Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) said Wednesday that it has closed its investigation into a fire at an equipment repair workshop in Battambang City on January 24 that destroyed equipment and vehicles worth an estimated $400,000.

Heng Ratana, CMAC’s director-general, said that the fire had been caused by a faulty electrical circuit, adding that computers, along with copies of operational and financial records, were swept up in the blaze. 

On the day of the fire, Mr. Ratana said that the blaze took three hours to put out because CMAC staff had attempted to quell the flames on their own before calling local firefighters.

Mr. Ratana Wednesday dismissed allegations leveled against him by an anonymous whistle-blower, claiming to be a CMAC employee, who suggested that the fire was intentionally set and said Mr. Ratana has created a network of corruption around him as the head of CMAC.

The whistle-blower claims that $1 million in replacement parts for equipment were purchased by workshop managers the day before the fire, but the purchase could no longer be documented as all the files were destroyed.

“[Did] those…spare parts…fall in the fire or not? We are afraid those spare parts fall in the market,” the whistle-blower wrote in a letter sent to the press. “[A]ll CMAC’s evidential document[s] are lost also, this fire happen by its self or by someone?”

The letter goes on to detail a network of mismanaged resources and nepotism at CMAC’s Battambang workshop.

“In the CMAC’s Central Workshop [there are] so many of [Mr. Ratana’s] relatives,” the letter says, claiming that the workshop manager, logistics officer, finance officer and “dozens of mechanic[s]” are related to Mr. Ratana.

“Nearby there [are] more than 1,000 hectare[s] of [Mr. Ratana’s] paddy rice field, [where] dozens of CMAC’s fuel, Excavators, Vehicles [are being used],” the letter says, along with photos of Hitachi excavators being used in landscaping projects and state vehicles seemingly parked at private residences.

Mr. Ratana admitted Wednesday that some of his relatives are employed at CMAC’s Battambang office, but denied the rest of the allegations against him.

“Although one or two siblings are working here, they passed the exam for the job here before my arrival to CMAC,” he said. “When [my in-laws] began working here, they were not in-laws. But they fell in love and married [my siblings].”

As for the rice field where CMAC equipment is allegedly being used, Mr. Ratana said: “Although I am developing a rice paddy, no materials donated by donors have been used.”

Mr. Ratana said that the claims against him were meant to defame him. “Anybody who attacks me just wants to discredit me in front of the donors,” he said.

The Japanese Embassy declined to comment on CMAC’s investigation into the fire, which destroyed mainly equipment paid for with Japanese aid.

CMAC has been riddled with revelations and allegations of corruption.

In 1999, a report finding financial mismanagement at CMAC came amid accusations of embezzlement, misuse of foreign and domestic funds and nepotism. CMAC’s director-general at the time was fired, donors froze their funding and some 90 percent of the staff were laid off.

Mr. Ratana, as deputy director general of CMAC in 2003, was accused, along with two other managers, of exaggerating expense reports and taking bribes in exchange for jobs at the organization.

An internal investigation headed by Mr. Ratana found no wrongdoing.

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