Japan on Thursday announced a $4.17 million contribution to the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which will fund the court’s Cambodian side through at least the end of 2009.
The donation, jointly welcomed in a statement by all of the court’s financial backers, effectively bailed the tribunal out of a financial crisis created by a freeze on UN funding due to allegations of corruption.
Paychecks for April for the court’s 251 Cambodian staff were not issued Thursday, which would otherwise have been payday.
However, in a memorandum, the tribunal’s office of administration told Cambodian employees to expect to be paid in another three to four weeks.
Supplying a total of $50 million to both the UN and Cambodian sides of the tribunal, or more than one third of its entire budget, Japan is by far the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s largest donor and has repeatedly acted to resolve problems arising from difficulties in international cooperation.
Japan in 2007 also helped to mediate a dispute over fees the Cambodian Bar Association sought to impose on foreign defense lawyers, which caused international judges to threaten to abandon the court.
“Japan places a great emphasis on the progress of the Khmer Rouge tribunal as it believes this process will promote peace and democracy, the rule of law and good governance,” the Japanese Embassy said in a statement announcing the latest cash injection.
Thursday’s announcement marked Japan’s third bilateral donation to the Cambodian side of the tribunal that has bypassed the UN Development Program, which administers all other foreign funding for the Cambodian side of the court.
After the failure of negotiations last month on a corruption reporting mechanism at the tribunal, UN legal officers left the Cambodian government an ultimatum in the form of a final proposal for the anticorruption program that would allow Cambodian court staff to make allegations of wrongdoing to the international side of the tribunal. The government, however, is demanding that Cambodian staffers report issues of wrongdoing only to the Cambodian side of the court.
Japan’s donation Thursday appears to release the Cambodian government from any immediate pressure to meet the UN’s terms.
Other international donors have also expressed a willingness to fund the court in spite of UN concerns about corruption.
Australia last month unsuccessfully sought the release of $428,000 in funding it has contributed to the Cambodian side of the court through the UNDP.
However, UNDP headquarters in New York declined the Australian request to release those funds, citing the failure of the negotiations to resolve the corruption reporting mechanism.
In a separate statement released Thursday on behalf of all donors to the court, France and Japan said there had been “broad progress” in efforts to prevent corruption at the tribunal, and urged the UN and Cambodian government to conclude their negotiations.
In a program to air for the first time at 10 am today, international television news broadcaster CNN is to show interviews with anonymous Cambodian administrators working at the tribunal who accuse the court’s Director of Administration Sean Visoth of collecting kickbacks totaling $30,000 to $40,000 per month, according to an unedited version of the broadcast that was obtained Thursday.
“Every month they have to put an envelope and hand it to the director of the Office of Administration. The money is in cash, US dollars,” CNN is told by the court staffer, whose face is obscured to protect his identity.
According to a report briefly released in November by the German parliament, the court’s Deputy Director of Administration Knut Rosandhaug told visiting German lawmakers in October that Sean Visoth had been identified by the inspector general arm of the UN as being involved in corruption.
The UN review’s findings have not been made public, and Mr Rosandhaug has declined to discuss the parliamentarians’ report.
A person answering the gate at Mr Sean Visoth’s home in Phnom Penh this week said he was not in, and attempts to reach him by telephone have not been successful.
In an e-mail sent to CNN, Mr Sean Visoth denied any wrongdoing in his role at the tribunal.
“I have not taken kickbacks to anyone nor given kickbacks to anyone,” he told CNN. “Do you believe that the victims are so stupid to pay such a large sum of money without complaining?” he asked.
In July last year, a handful of Cambodian employees at the court made similar allegations of kickbacks for jobs to UN personnel, which eventually prompted the corruption investigation and the funding freeze.
As of April 26, Mr Sean Visoth has officially been on leave for five months.
Tribunal Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said Thursday that Sean Visoth stopped collecting a salary from the tribunal in March.
“I can say absolutely nothing more than that he is on leave without pay,” Ms Jarvis said.