Human Rights Institute Audit Inconclusive

A study of financial irregularities at the Cambodian Institute of Human Rights was released to donors Friday but may not immediately answer questions about allegations that a secret $20,000 fund was used to disguise unauthorized expenditures, officials and sources said Friday.

The PriceWaterhouseCoopers study, requested by several do­nors who support CIHR programs, was meant to answer questions that arose after allegations surfaced in January.

At least one donor said Friday that the study does not adequately explain what went wrong at the human rights NGO, however.

“We have been analyzing this document,” said Aldo Dell’Aric­cia, charge d’affairs of the Euro­pean Commission office in Phnom Penh. “We still do not have enough information on what happened, or what the dimension of the problem really is.”

The EC froze its programs with the CIHR in January when the allegations first surfaced. The freeze halted a $1.4 million, two-year program that began in Jan­uary, 2001, to teach human rights concepts in primary and secondary schools.

“We will not unfreeze our project as long as we do not have a satisfactory explanation of what happened,” Dell’Ariccia said.

“I would like to stress that the CIHR has done excellent work as an implementor of our human rights project. However, this prob­lem has been worrying; when­ever you have problems in management it’s worrying.”

In an interview Thursday, suspended CIHR head Kassie Neou said he feels saddened by the allegations and betrayed by the people who worked for him.

He specifically named suspended finance director Nhim Sakal as the person responsible for bookkeeping problems.

“Caught redhanded, the fraud was committed by the person I trusted, the finance director,” he said. “When I took sabbatical for more than seven months to serve the NEC as vice chairman, during that period I didn’t have any authority as director anymore. These things happened during my absence, which is a pity.

“But even so, I hold myself responsible, too. In reality the person really responsible for this must be held responsible. Fair is fair. The truth is the truth. That is what I believe and I hope our donors will stick with the truth and will favor fairness. It’s frustrating and sad and damages my reputation, but at least I know that I am not here to take,” he said.

Kassie Neou was suspended from his post, along with operations director Steven Pak and Nhim Sakal, after the allegations arose.

An interim management com­mit­tee run by Pol Ham took over the day-to-day operations of the NGO. Pol Ham would not release the PriceWaterhouseCoopers study on Friday, but said he may be willing to share it later.

“I have not read it properly yet,” he said Friday.

Asked if he believed there was fraud committed, Pol Ham said he could not yet answer the question.

“I cannot tell you in a few words. Give me the time to read the complete report,” he said.

Kassie Neou was in Kompong Speu on Friday preparing for the closing ceremony of a local government training program, ac­cording to Pol Ham. Kassie Neou could not be reached for comment on the study.

The Cambodian Institute for Human Rights counts among its donors the Asia Foundation, the European Commission, Japan, ForumSYD and Canada’s CIDA.

Spokespeople for the Asia Foundation and CIDA declined to discuss the report publicly. Other donors either could not be reached for comment Friday.

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