Expenses Under Investigation at Land Ministry

A team of Ministry of Finance officials was dispatched to the Ministry of Land Management Thursday to probe allegations that officials have em­bezzled some $200,000 from the ministry’s budget, officials said.

But the investigation ran immediately into an obstacle when Minister Im Chhun Lim could not be found to give official permission for the probe to start, members of the team said.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon sign­ed a letter Wednesday ordering a four-member team from the ministry’s general department of inspection to closely examine the budget of a 2004-to-2005 land registration project, according to a copy of the let­ter. Department Director Ek Vireak­­deth, Deputy Director Lonh Pu­n­ara, Credit Chief Hai Vantha and Inspector Hem Vathana make up the team.

Nearly 500 pages of documents purportedly detailing corruption at the ministry were leaked by a senior ministry official last week, prompting calls for an audit from ministry of­ficials.

“We could not do anything yet be­cause we need initial approval from the minister,” one team member said. “He was not at the ministry when we were there.”

Im Chhun Lim did not answer phone calls.

Pho Vuthy, director of the land management ministry’s finance department, said any problems with the department’s accounting are not serious ones, but might appear to be so to officials outside the de­partment who know less about fi­nance.

“Every expense was made with a re­ceipt to back it,” he said, adding that the documents have been leaked to undermine him.

“In the procurement process, our purchases could not me made at market prices. The price is usually higher,” partly because of the bureaucratic costs of the procurement process, he said.

“But everything was made with the approval of the minister and the minister of finance,” he added.


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