Two weeks after a public relations offensive was launched on her behalf, a government spokesman on Thursday said that disgraced anti-trafficking icon Somaly Mam would not be allowed to operate another NGO in Cambodia.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the government would prevent Ms. Mam—who stepped down from the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) in May after a damning Newsweek expose revealed she had fabricated her back story as a sex slave—from running another anti-sex trafficking organization in the future.
“I think that she is not going to run an NGO again,” Mr. Siphan said. “We are not going to allow her to run this kind of activity again.”
The Newsweek story, written by Simon Marks, also reported that Ms. Mam coached girls in her care to lie about their own lives to attract donations to her anti-trafficking organizations, SMF and Afesip, allegations previously published in The Cambodia Daily in stories also authored by Mr. Marks.
In recent years, Ms. Mam’s international profile soared as she courted celebrities, politicians and wealthy donors. Millions of dollars flooded into SMF. When inconsistencies in her story emerged, she stepped down from both organizations and in June, SMF abruptly cut off its funding to Afesip.
Mr. Siphan, the first government representative to publicly weigh in on the saga, said Ms. Mam had “misled the world” but that there were no plans to prosecute her.
“We don’t see her acting right now [but] if she does have activities, we can stop her from doing that, because it is a breach of trust, because she used a huge amount of international money,” he said.
“So she has no right to do that activity anymore and we don’t want to see this kind of case again,” Mr. Siphan.
In a post to his Facebook page Wednesday, Mr. Siphan said he was concerned about the effects of Ms. Mam’s deception on Cambodia’s reputation.
“I regret that Ms. Mam Somaly, director of Afesip, who fabricated a bad story in order to get personal benefits, by cheating the queen of Spain and the German president, as well as the world, wasting millions of dollars and also damaging the honor and face of Cambodia as a whole,” he wrote.
The government’s stance is likely to frustrate Ms. Mam’s plans to revive her career in the anti-trafficking sector, which were revealed last month when she publicly defended herself for the first time in an interview published in Marie Claire magazine.
The interview coincided with the launch of a public relations push on Ms. Mam’s behalf by celebrity publicist Scott Gorenstein and a campaign questioning the Newsweek story by the Hearst media group, which publishes Marie Claire. Both suggested that public condemnation of Ms. Mam had been too swift.
At the same time, the New Somaly Mam Fund was established to solicit donations for Afesip, purportedly by friends who want Ms. Mam to remain “front and center” in the anti-trafficking fight. The fund is based in the U.S.
Despite claiming that his client would be available to speak with the media beginning on September 22, Mr. Gorenstein has not responded to a request for an interview with Ms. Mam.
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