A prominent lawyer and a lawmaker on Thursday rejected the latest explanation from the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) for why it cannot pursue charges against the disgraced former head of the National Malaria Center, who has been told to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.
On Tuesday, ACU chairman Om Yentieng said he had closed the unit’s investigation into Duong Socheat, who is accused of receiving $351,000 in bribes over several years to secure some $12 million in contracts for a pair of overseas mosquito net providers. The allegations were laid out in a detailed 2013 report—packed with damning evidence—by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, whose grant money Mr. Socheat is accused of manipulating.
Mr. Yentieng also said that Mr. Socheat had been told to pay back the bribes he took to the Global Fund in full, effectively admitting his guilt. But he added that Mr. Socheat would not be prosecuted, on the grounds that his crimes predated the Anti-Corruption Law, which established the ACU.
The king signed the law in April 2010. According to the Global Fund, the last confirmed bribe Mr. Socheat took for manipulating the mosquito net contracts was delivered in July 2010. Its report also cites an email from Mr. Socheat to one of the net providers in which he appears to ask for help with his daughter’s university tuition payments in 2012, a year after he retired.
Even if Mr. Yentieng’s claims about Mr. Socheat’s alleged crimes predating the Anti-Corruption Law were true, the argument did not stop the ACU from pursuing its case against ex-drug czar Moek Dara.
The former head of the government’s anti-drug authority was sentenced to life in prison in early 2012 on 32 counts of drug trafficking and corruption. The original charges the ACU helped bring against Mr. Dara stemmed from the testimony of another police officer who was arrested in July 2010, which means his crimes were no more dated than the allegations against Mr. Socheat.
The 32 counts against Mr. Dara also included allegations dating back to 2008 and 2009, well before the Anti-Corruption Law took effect.
In fact, Mr. Dara was charged with corruption under Cambodia’s 1992 penal code, not the 2010 version that replaced it.
Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent attorney and legal expert, said Thursday authorities could have done the same thing with Mr. Socheat, the former malaria center chief, or handed his case off to other police.
“The normal police can do that. Why they [the ACU] did not send the case to the normal police?” he said.
CNRP lawmaker and acting party spokesman Ou Chanrith said the ACU’s disparate handling of the two cases showed clear bias.
“It’s a double standard, it should be all the same,” he said.
Mr. Chanrith rejected the ACU’s reasons for letting Mr. Socheat off without a trial and said it would show other officials that they can pay their way out of a court case.
“It’s a crime,” he said of the bribes Mr. Socheat allegedly solicited and received on the job. “If someone commits any crime…he should be prosecuted and put in jail.”
Neither Mr. Yentieng nor the ACU’s spokesman could be reached Thursday.
Mr. Socheat has declined to comment on the allegations against him since they emerged. The Global Fund has declined to answer questions about the government’s decision to not prosecute him.
Mr. Socheat’s case was one of the most well-documented examples of government corruption in recent years. The Global Fund’s 2013 report includes excerpts of interviews with officials from the mosquito net providers admitting that they knew they were paying bribes. An annex to the report includes copies of emails in which Mr. Socheat instructs the officials to deposit the money into various bank accounts of his choosing, including those of relatives and a fabricated consultant.
(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)