Convicted baby-broker Lauryn Galindo directed payments of up to $3,500 to government officials for each of the hundreds of adoptions she facilitated in Cambodia, according to documents made public as part of her recent plea bargain in US court.
Court documents showed that of the $10,500 to $11,500 fees Galindo charged US adoptive parents, “approximately $3,500 of these funds were used, in part, to pay Cambodian ministry clerks, employees or officials to facilitate the adoption process in Cambodia.”
Those payments to Cambodian government employees were called into question by local human rights NGO Licadho, which urged the Cambodian government to investigate the matter in a statement on Thursday.
“There is every reason to believe that these payments were bribes, given the fact that the government has stated that it does not charge adoption fees,” Licadho President Kek Galabru said in the statement.
Galindo, a US citizen, pleaded guilty in June to charges in US federal court of visa fraud, money laundering and currency structuring. Between 1997 and 2001, her Seattle International Adoptions agency arranged at least 700 adoptions in Cambodia.
According to the court documents, which Galindo signed June 23, an unnamed government official received money directly from US adoptive parents to the official’s Phnom Penh bank account. No government officials are named in the documents.
If the fee was standard for each adoption, as court documents suggest, Cambodian officials may have profited $2.45 million during the time Galindo operated in Cambodia.
The court documents highlighted only 17 US adoptions that showed that from those adoptions, $59,500 went to Cambodian officials.
“Who’s getting this money, and how much of it has gone to actually improving the lives of poor Cambodian children?” Galabru said.
Nim Thoth, a CPP secretary of state for the Ministry of Social Affairs, dismissed Licadho’s allegations of bribery, but said he would investigate since it is illegal for the government to charge fees for adoptions.
But he referenced a subdecree in Cambodian law that allows adoptive parents to donate to government adoption centers and suggested the money may have gone to the centers.
Officials in the ministry’s child welfare department declined to comment, referring all questions to Minister Ith Sam Heng. When asked about adoptions Thursday, Ith Sam Heng hung up the phone.
Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Long Visalo, who oversees foreign adoptions, did not answer calls Thursday.
Heide Bronke, US Embassy spokeswoman, said she did not know who the officials referenced in the court documents were.
The US suspended adoptions from Cambodia in 2001.
Following the US’ lead, Britain also suspended adoptions from Cambodia in June, saying the government’s system is prone to fraud.
John Mitchell, deputy head of mission for the British Embassy, said the extra fees associated with adoptions in part motivated the suspension.
“The payments made by some of the [British] adoptive parents seem excessive given that Cambodian laws would seem to suggest that the process should be free,” he said. “So draw your own conclusions.”
Meas Sophat, director of the government’s Kean Khleang orphanage in Phnom Penh, which worked with Galindo on some adoptions, said foreigners—with the exception of US and British citizens—can still adopt children if they organize the adoptions through the government, without using an agency.
“I don’t like agencies because agencies are no good,” he said, declining to elaborate.
Sieng Lapresse, a former undersecretary of state to the Ministry of Foreign Ministry, said he did not oversee adoptions while in government. However, he said, in the government’s adoption process, “there’s a possibility of any costs like [when] any other people do business…. I just assume the cost should be in there somewhere.”