Diplomats Play Down ECCC Kickback Claim

While potentially troubling, allegations that Cambodian Khmer Rouge tribunal staffers have to pay kickbacks for their positions would not necessarily prevent donors from funding the court if the claims are proved to be correct, two foreign diplomats said this week.

Several officials at the Extra­ordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia have dismissed the allegations, and no hard evidence supporting the claims, which were publicized in a statement Feb 14 by the Open Society for Justice Initiative, has come to light.

OSJI said in the statement that there have been allegations that officials including judges have to pay kickbacks to government officials, and called for a speedy and thorough investigation.

One Western diplomat said Wednesday that while kickbacks would be morally reprehensible if they are proved to have occurred, they could possibly be overlooked.

Allegations of kickbacks “[don’t] go directly to the issue of whether this court will be objective and capable of meeting international standards,” the diplomat said.

A second foreign diplomat said on condition of anonymity Monday that if substantiated, kickbacks would tarnish the image of ECCC judges, but would not be fatal.

“It would call into question their independence,” he said. “This was one of the officially stated criteria for judges: Independence, moral integrity, professional experience.”

But, he added, “judges would still have the possibility of stopping this process and showing their independence.”

Allegations that government officials have to pay other individuals in the government for their jobs are nothing new, he said.

“We are living in an environment where this is the bread and butter of daily life,” he claimed.

“We have a clientele system. Everything is based on this, most probably it goes right into the judicial system,” he added.

ECCC Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng said in an interview Wednesday that kickbacks are not a feature of the judicial system and that he had never heard of the allegations at the ECCC until they appeared in the media.

“If there [was] a kickback of sal­ary, I could not support it,” You Bunleng said. “I could not work here,” he added.

Sean Visoth, the tribunal’s ad­ministration director, wrote to OSJI in the wake of its statement saying he wished to have no further cooperation with the NGO. He also called OSJI’s statement “offensive and destructive,” and described the group’s allegations as “unspecific, unsubstantiated and unsourced.”

Norng Sopheavy, disbursement officer at the tribunal’s budget and finance section, said Wed­nesday she had also never heard about the allegations of kickbacks before they appeared in the media.

“All the salaries are transferred through the bank,” she said.

OSJI said in its statement that if kickbacks have been paid, this would be of grave consequence for the tribunal.

“If these allegations of corruption are confirmed, it would strip the ECCC of its integrity and undermine its ability to provide accountability for mass crimes,” James Goldston, OSJI’s executive director, said in the statement.

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