The National Audit Authority dispatched a six-member investigation team to probe corruption allegations at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction on Thursday, according to documents obtained Friday and a senior government official.
The NAA investigation follows allegations of systematic corruption at the ministry and the leaking last month of some 500 pages of internal ministry documents that allegedly detail the embezzlement of $200,000 by ministry staff.
The Ministry of Finance previously sent a four-member inspection team to the ministry to investigate the claims on February 22.
A senior official at the ministry said that the latest probe followed a letter written by opposition lawmaker Keo Remy to Prime Minister Hun Sen on March 3 requesting that the embezzlement claims be investigated.
“If the investigation is serious, [the embezzlement] cannot be hidden. The evidence is on the ground,” the ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
NAA Director General Ut Chhorn wrote on March 7 to Minister of Land Management Im Chhun Lim informing him of the probe and requesting his cooperation, according to a copy of the letter.
Im Chhun Lim could not be contacted for comment on Friday and has not made any public statement about the corruption allegations.
NAA and Land Management Ministry officials contacted on Friday downplayed the significance of the audit, saying it was part of the ministry’s annual accounting process and the investigation team.
“We are collecting general information,” said NAA Deputy Director General Luk Nhep, who is leading the team at the ministry.
The team is collecting general information on the ministry’s expenditures, Luk Nhep said.
Pho Vuthy, director of the ministry’s planning, economy and finance department, who has denied that any corruption has taken place inside the ministry, also said that there was nothing unusual in the NAA audit.
“It’s an annual inspection. It’s general,” he said. There is nothing new.”