Graft Czar Announces New Court Probes

Just over a week after the arrest of Pursat prosecutor Tob Chan Sereivuth, Cambodia’s graft czar Om Yentieng yesterday revealed that new investigations had been opened into two more of the country’s courts.

A global corruption monitor also reported that the number of Cambodians paying bribes nearly doubled this year.

In its latest global corruption barometer, launched yesterday to coincide with anticorruption day, Transparency International reported that 84 percent of Cambodians surveyed this July reported paying a service provider a bribe in the past 12 months. Of the 86 countries surveyed, only Liberia and Uganda scored higher, and only marginally.

The country’s score also nearly doubles the 47 percent of Cambodians that Transparency International reported paying bribes in 2009.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said this year’s figure may even be too low.

“In my heart, I think it is maybe even higher,” said Mr Sam Oeun. “But the government officials, I think the corruption happens everywhere.”

But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan cast doubt on the figure.

“I think it is only because of their method of research,” he said. “It does not seem useful.”

The report gives no explanation for this year’s significant rise in reported bribes. Though 1,000 Cambodians were polled in person over the space of one to two weeks in both 2009 and 2010, the surveys were conducted by different firms.

Indochina Research, which carried out this year’s survey, declined to compare figures. Emiko Stock, the group’s associate research director, said the firm merely collected the raw data and passed them on to Transparency International for analysis.

Also this year, 43 percent of those polled believed corruption had increased in the past three years, more than either the 27 percent who said it had stayed the same or the 30 percent who believed it had decreased.

They also named Cambodia’s courts the most corrupt institution in the country.

The report was not all bad news, though. Despite the stratospheric bribery rate, nearly three-quarters of those polled called the government’s fights against corruption “effective.”

The results follow the long-awaited approval of Cambodia’s anticorruption law earlier this year.

During a workshop on the law for some 1,000 government officials in Phnom Penh yesterday, Mr Yentieng, head of the country’s nascent anti-graft unit, pledged to root out offenders high and low.

“When our unit has evidence, even if it involves zero dollars, we cannot forgive it,” he said.

The unit made its first arrest on Nov 29, taking custody of Pursat prosecutor Tob Chan Sereivuth and several associates. The court charged the men with corruption, illegal detention and extortion on Dec 1.

Yesterday, Mr Yentieng said his staff had also obtained an arrest warrant for the prosecutor’s brother-in-law, Pich Kong You, 34.

Mr Yentieng also made passing reference to new investigations into officials at the Court of Appeal and Battambang Provincial Court but declined to go into details when pressed by reporters.

Yong Kim Eng, who helped the Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability stage an anticorruption day rally at Phnom Penh’s so-called “freedom park” yesterday, called Mr Chan Sereivuth’s arrest “a good start.”

But he also faulted the new law for a vague definition of corruption and its failure to set up a truly independent anti-graft unit.

“Everyone knows the court…is corrupt,” Mr Kim Eng said. “But we don’t want people to buy justice. We want people to find justice, real justice.”

 

 

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