District Officials Deny Accusations of Extortion, Corruption

A slew of anonymous graft accusations against two district officials—accompanied by responses of denial—were posted separately to the website of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on Friday, continuing the agency’s recent surge in such exposure.

A list of 12 complaints against Sy Suon, the governor of Siem Pang district in Stung Treng province since 2011, outlines allegations of withholding salaries, pilfering state funds and extorting various business operators—both legal and illegal—for thousands of dollars annually. 

In a separate complaint, Soem Vanna, the governor of Kompong Thom province’s Sandan district from 2009 to 2014, is accused of selling state forest to a private company, gifting state land to relatives, colluding with a businessman to steal land, and misappropriating state funds.

Contacted by telephone on Friday, Mr. Suon declined to comment on the allegations as they were a “private issue.” Mr. Vanna, who is now a Sandan district councilor, outright denied all accusations against him.

“I did none of what I have been accused of. It is not truthful,” he said.

In his response to the ACU, Mr. Suon deflects all the allegations in the complaint, which says he colluded with a Chinese mining company, illegal fishermen in the area, and businessmen and officials to transport timber from the ostensibly protected Virachey National Park.

“Try Pheap has a license from the Royal Government to collect timber…accusations of colluding with businessmen are not true,” he wrote.

As for the Chinese mining company: “District and commune officials have never written an official letter allowing it to operate.”

In his reply, Mr. Vanna explained that there was no need for him to unlawfully appropriate state land for his relatives.

“[I] have four children, three of whom are married and have their own separate land,” he wrote. His youngest daughter, he said, was “gifted her 60,341-square-meter plot by the state.”

Mr. Vanna also rejected the claim that he had received an unspecified sum of cash and a Highlander SUV from a local businessman in exchange for 100 hectares of state forest.

“The Highlander was bought on March 3, 2011, after selling [my] Toyota Camry and adding some more money.”

ACU Chairman Om Yentieng could not be reached on Friday. But following the publication of anonymous graft accusations against the heads of the National Military Police training school earlier this week, Mr. Yentieng said the public posting of such cases was meant to draw evidence from the anonymous complainants following denials from the accused.

Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, lauded the ACU’s tactic of posting accusations and responses.

“People are often afraid to put forward their names so the ACU posts to challenge the complainant to respond with evidence,” he said, adding that the method might also inspire others to add to lists of complaints.

“The number of postings is increasing and we will see the effectiveness in the coming months.”

But while the alleged misdeeds of two more corrupt officials have been made public, extortion and misappropriation of state funds by officials remains rampant, he said.

“This is quite common, very common in Cambodia for bosses to take money from the state for their own pocket.”

(Additional reporting by Matt Blomberg)


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