The government has declined a call from the UN to investigate lingering allegations of corruption at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, officials said.
In a Jan 11 letter to Cabinet Minister Sok An, the UN Development Program, which oversees Cambodian court funds, urged the government to take up a donor suggestion to lead an investigation into allegations that Cambodian tribunal employees made third-party payments in exchange for their jobs.
“UNDP agrees that the conduct of such a government-led investigation into the allegations would be a way to ensure the continued public and donor confidence in the tribunal,” according to a copy of the letter.
UNDP also offered to help secure international assistance, should the government decide to investigate the allegations.
Margaret Lamb, a UNDP spokeswoman, said by e-mail on Friday that the government has declined the offer.
“The Government’s response was that an investigation at this juncture would not be timely in light of the forward momentum of the court,” Lamb wrote.
“UNDP will continue to support the ECCC as it focuses on continuing its work in bringing to justice those most responsible for crimes committed during the period of Democratic Kampuchea,” she added.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said that a UNDP audit last year had gone far enough in investigating the allegations.
“We don’t need any more unless you bring a new argument,” he said.
UNDP auditors, however, did not press the corruption allegation, on the grounds that they did not have jurisdiction to investigate the allegations of third-party payment.
A new European Commission review of reform at the tribunal also does not include a direct probe of the allegations, according to two people familiar with the review. The court’s domestic auditor said he too had been unable to make a thorough investigation.
Tribunal Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said that such an investigation is unnecessary.
“It’s been our position that to pursue any such rumor in the absence of anything specific amounts to an inquisition,” she said.
“We’re looking to the future,” Jarvis added.
The UNDP letter suggests that the international community broadly supported a corruption investigation with the Cambodian government at the helm.
The proposal, the letter said, had been taken up by donors in New York, was floated by the UN’s Office of Legal Affairs in meetings late last year, and discussed at a November meeting of the Project Board, which manages donor funds for the Cambodian side of the court.
“[D]evelopment partners agreed that an investigation led by the Royal Government of Cambodia could be undertaken to address the remaining concerns,” the letter states.
International opinion remains split over how to best deal with the third-party payment allegations, which were first raised a year ago by the Open Society Justice Initiative, a US-based judicial watchdog group.
One Phnom Penh diplomat said he supported the UNDP proposal, even if the result might have been less than fully credible.
“It would have been worthwhile to enter into such an exercise, if only to show you have been trying your level best to clear this court from these allegations,” he said.
Donors, the diplomat added, are interested in maintaining the credibility of the court. And the credibility of the court is linked, in his mind, to three things: a firm stance against corruption; willingness to make significant structural changes, such as the creation of a high-level UN adviser position; and fiscal leadership from the Cambodian government.
The government is reportedly resisting the idea of a UN adviser at the court, which some argue is crucial for strengthening the court’s troubled international leadership.
A court source said on condition of anonymity, because negotiations are on-going, that the UN has offered to pay for the adviser out of its own budget, rather than drawing on tribunal funds.
Donors and potential donors have also called on the government to contribute more of its own money to the tribunal, which is seeking an additional $114 million.
To date, Cambodia has contributed $1.5 million in cash and an estimated $5.3 million in-kind to the tribunal.
The Cambodian side of the court is expected to run out of funds in April, but donors have yet to commit any funds publicly. Another donor meeting is scheduled for March, in New York, but donors and court employees alike say that barring a unilateral, direct contribution to the Cambodian side of the court, funds may not come through before money for Cambodian staff salaries runs out.
The tribunal’s UN spokesman, Peter Foster, said he was confident that the court will not falter for want of funds.
“I am confident the required funds will be obtained to allow us to carry out our important mandate,” he said Monday.
Khieu Kanharith has said that the government is willing to contribute more money, but it’s too early to say how much.
Khieu Kanharith reiterated the government’s commitment to the tribunal Tuesday.
“They don’t need to question Cambodia’s intentions,” he said, referring doubters to the provision in the law that set up the ECCC that allows the government of Cambodia to go ahead with trials in the event of an international pullout.
A second diplomat said that despite controversy over the court’s administration, judicial work seems to be moving apace.
“Things are really moving in the right direction,” he said. Whether they’ve moved far enough will become clear when it comes time to put money on the table.
“The final decisions will come at the pledging conference,” he said.