Court Charges Official With Corruption Over Pension Scandal

The Kompong Cham Provincial Court on Saturday charged the chief of Srei Santhor district’s social affairs office with corruption following his arrest by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on Friday for withholding pensions and other bonuses from retired teachers, a court official said Tuesday.

Provincial court deputy prosecutor Plang Sophal said that Mang You Sreng was charged with corruption, forging government documents and using those documents for his personal gain.

“I charged him on three counts …which are punishable by many years in prison,” Mr. Sophal said, adding that Mr. You Sreng is currently in pretrial detention at the provincial prison.

On Monday, the ACU posted a statement on its website accusing social affairs officials in Srei Santhor of failing to distribute pensions to retired teachers in the district for March last year, and likewise withholding a $5-per-month “living bonus” from the teachers for the entirety of 2010.

The statement does not say how much money was unaccounted for.

Neither the ACU’s President Om Yentieng nor its spokesman Keo Remy could be reached Tuesday.

Touch Chhay, director of the Kompong Cham social affairs department, said that provincial-level officials bore no responsibility for the scandal, as they had passed along the necessary funds to the Srei Santhor office.

“The money for retired teachers was sent to the district social affairs office in March and in 2010,” he said, explaining that about 120 former educators in Kompong Cham qualify for monthly pensions, which range between $25 and $130.

The $5 “living bonus” was scrapped across the country in 2011, Mr. Chhay added.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Union, welcomed Mr. You Sreng’s arrest, but said the case was yet another example of the ACU targeting low-level bureaucrats while ignoring malfeasance by senior officials.

“The ACU only arrests small-potato officials,” Mr. Chun said, noting that the ACU has yet to prosecute anyone over millions of dollars allegedly embezzled from government coffers by the Social Affairs Ministry in 2011.

In July that year, then-Finance Minister Keat Chhon wrote to then-Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng informing him that the ACU found that social affairs officials had embezzled nearly $5.5 million through falsified budgets and pensions collected in the names of “ghost” veterans. No one has ever been held accountable for the crime.

Mr. Chhun also said that because Prime Minister Hun Sen directly oversees the ACU, he is in a position to save certain officials from scrutiny.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan argued Tuesday that the prime minister’s supervision of the ACU is a good thing.

“He makes sure they are working, and [that] the ACU is not afraid” of investigating well-connected officials, he said.

(Additional reporting by Ben Woods)

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