The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications on Thursday defended the appointment of the former Telecom Cambodia (T.C.) director- general to the position of an undersecretary despite ongoing investigations into his involvement in alleged corrupt acts and embezzlement of funds at the state-owned company.
About 300 staff from T.C. went on strike last month to demand Lao Saroeun’s removal. After the strike, Mr. Saroeun stood down from his position, claiming he had gone on sick leave.
On Wednesday, Transparency International and three local rights groups raised questions over Mr. Saroeun’s new appointment and demanded that the ministry offer an explanation for its actions.
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Telecommunications Minister So Khun said that his ministry had found no evidence against Mr. Saroeun.
“We don’t have a document to show that he is corrupt, like a document he signed to take money from T.C. We can’t accuse him without evidence,” Mr. Khun said, adding that the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) was still conducting its own investigation into Mr. Saroeun.
“The ACU is still investigating, and I don’t know when they’ll be finished. But if they find that Mr. Saroeun is corrupt, we will punish him according to the law,” he said.
“He was the former director-general of T.C., so we have to have a position for him. I can’t let him down,” Mr. Khun said to explain the decision to promote Mr. Saroeun while a corruption investigation was under way.
But Kol Preap, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said that Mr. Saroeun should not have been appointed before he was cleared of all crimes.
“The internal investigation of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications is not reliable, the public doesn’t consider this truly independent. In this case, we still need to hear from the ACU, which is more reliable,” Mr. Preap said.
At the annual meeting of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications last week, secretary of state Sarak Khan said that in 2012, Telecom Cambodia—which provides commercial phone and Internet services—made losses of more than $40 million during the five years that Mr. Saroeun headed the company.
But Mr. Saroeun offered a different financial report—which he claimed had been audited by KPMG—that shows that T.C. made roughly $78 million in gross profits from 2008 through 2012. “I don’t have any worries about the ACU investigation because I am not corrupt,” Mr. Saroeun said. “I don’t know which report Excellency Sarak Khan was looking at. I want to clarify that T.C. did not lose any money.”