Fertilizer Scam Referred to Anti-Corruption Unit

The case of a Battambang provincial government official ac­cused of embezzling some $200,000 in state funds has been referred to the Anti-Corruption Unit in Phnom Penh, provincial officials said Thursday.

Battambang Provincial Court deputy prosecutor Long Hokmeng said a two-week investigation into the case brought against Seng Ratanak, deputy bureau chief of Battambang’s department of agriculture, had turned up signs of corruption.

“The investigating judge sent the case back to me with the details that there is corruption involved so on Monday I sent it to the Anti-Cor­ruption Unit,” Mr. Hokmeng said.

After being arrested on September 2, Mr. Ratanak confessed to police that he had sold thousands of tons of fertilizer—donated by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA)—to poor farmers at inflated prices and kept the majority of the proceeds, which were intended for the Ministry of Agriculture.

According to Mr. Hokmeng, just days after telling police he had acted alone, Mr. Ratanak then told investigating judges that four others were involved in the scam, including deputy Battambang governor Cheam Chansor­phorn, who is the son of CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, and Battam­bang agriculture department director Chhim Vicheara.

Mr. Vicheara quickly denied any involvement, while Mr. Chansorphorn claimed that he had in fact made the police report that led to Mr. Ratanak’s arrest after learning that the accused had been pocketing state funds.

While Mr. Hokmeng said the two provincial government officials were among those implicated, investigating Judge Ouk Sovanna­rith denied that was the case, and continued to maintain that stance yesterday.

“There are no more suspects in the case and I have sent it to the deputy prosecutor with the recommendation that it be transferred to the Anti-Corruption Unit,” Mr. Sovannarith said.

JICA, the Japanese government’s international aid arm, has opened its own investigation into the case after learning that the proceeds from 4,650 tons of fertilizer donated under a scheme aimed at increasing food production among poor farmers had been misappropriated by a government official.

Further, JICA’s head of public relations, Yukiko Kitazawa, said on September 9 that future support of the project would depend on improvements made to the government’s monitoring of such schemes.

JICA officials declined to comment on the case Thursday.

© 2013, All rights reserved.