Gov’t: Media Cannot Try Sean Visoth

Despite a global television broadcast making explicit charges of corruption at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the government maintained Friday it possesses no firm evidence of wrongdoing at the court.

CNN aired the silhouetted images of anonymous Khmer Rouge tribunal employees who alleged that ECCC Director of Administration Sean Visoth, who has been absent from the court since November, had collected kickbacks in cash amounting to as much as $40,000 per month, an amount equivalent to over 13 percent of the entire payroll of the Cambodian side of the court.

In an e-mail message featured in the CNN program, Mr Sean Visoth denies any wrongdoing in his role at the tribunal.

“I have not taken kickbacks to anyone nor given kickbacks to anyone,” he wrote to CNN.

The report aired Friday just as the tribunal’s donors welcomed a $4.2 million Japanese contribution that circumvented accounts administered by the UN Development Program and which were frozen last year amid corruption allegations at the court. Citing the risk of corruption, the UN Development Program last month declined to unfreeze the funds it manages despite a request from Australia to release its funds to the court.

Similar allegations to those aired by CNN have appeared in the print media.

However, Council of Ministers Secretary of State Phay Siphan recognized Friday that the power of CNN’s internationally broadcast images may be far greater.

“Sean Visoth’s picture has flown around the world,” Phay Siphan said, adding that he not yet personally seen the broadcast.

“We understand that CNN showed the world Somalia, and it changed public opinion,” he added.

Mr Phay Siphan said, however, that the tribunal’s human resources management had been audited repeatedly in 2007 and that no wrongdoing had been found. The audits were not investigations.

“We have a system, a court. We do not go to publications. We go to the court to see what’s going on,” Mr Phay Siphan continued. “If they tell me he is innocent, I have no competency to bring him to the court,” he added.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court in February abruptly closed a preliminary investigation brought by lawyers for former Brother Number Two, Nuon Chea who named Mr Sean Visoth, the tribunal’s former Personnel Chief Keo Thyvuth and Cabinet Minister Sok An as suspects in an alleged scheme of corruption at the tribunal. Mr Sean Visoth was the sole witness called for questioning.

On Friday, Mr Sean Visoth declined to answer questions.

“I am peaceful now,” he said by telephone.

After three months, Mr Sean Visoth’s sick leave ended in March and he is no longer collecting a Khmer Rouge tribunal salary.

The tribunal’s Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis declined to respond directly to CNN’s allegations.

“The news of the moment is that the Duch trial is going on very well and that the Cambodian side of the court has received four million dollars from Japan,” she said.

Rafael Dochao-Moreno, charge d’affaires for the European Com-

mission delegation to Cambodia, said Friday that Europe’s view has always been that any kickback allegations should be the subject of an inquiry.

“We have always said that all these investigations should be investigated,” he said.

However he reiterated the view jointly expressed by donors on Thursday, encouraging the UN and Cambodian government to conclude an agreement on an anticorruption program for the tribunal.

“I think that everyone has the idea that the discussions should continue and an agreement should be reached,” he said.

According to a CNN spokesman, the report will be broadcast again today, Sunday and Monday.

 

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