Ministry Official Detained Over Argument

A Ministry of Rural Develop­ment administrator was whisked away from the ministry building Tuesday evening by UN human rights officers after a guard there refused to allow him to leave, ta­king his orders from an angry senior official.

Prak Leng, the cabinet chief for outgoing Minister Chhim Seak Leng, had been kept from leaving for at least 90 minutes because he refused to seal documents or hand over the seal so it could allegedly be used for the unofficial promotion of four men by Ly Pros, director general of the Ministry.

Ly Pros said Prak Leng’s accusations were “exaggerated.” Ly Pros said he never ordered the guards to detain Prak Leng, but had only told them that “if they see Prak Leng, tell him to go to meet me at my office.”

The promotion of the four men has already been approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen, and the ceremony will continue with or without the sealed invitations, Ly Pros said.

“But I’m not sure who will join it. I can’t stop the ministry’s work. I have to follow the government,” he said.

Prek Leng said he argued about the seal with Ly Pros for about 45 minutes. When he tried to go home, the guards stopped him, he said.

Ministry employees called the UN office of the High Commis­sioner for Human Rights when they became afraid Ly Pros was angry and might shoot Prek Leng, according to one official inside the ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We’re afraid, because Ly Pros always keeps his gun in his bag,” the official said.

The UN human rights officer who took Prek Leng into custody said the UNHCHR was “monitoring the developments concerning his case,” but would not comment further.

Ministry officials say Ly Pros had promoted four men without the consent of incoming Rural Development Minister Ly Thuch. Ly Pros asked Prak Leng to seal invitations for a ceremony on Friday, Prak Leng said Tuesday night. After Prak Leng refused to seal the invitations, Ly Pros asked him to hand over the official stamp so that Ly Pros could do it himself.

When Prak Leng refused to hand over the seal, Ly Pros ordered the guards to keep him on the premises, Prak Leng said and another official confirmed.

“Ly Pros [tried to force] me to give him the official [ministry] seal. I have no right to give him [the seal]. But he told me if I don’t give it to him, he will ask the [guards] to detain me inside the ministry for the mosquitoes to eat,” Prak Leng said.

He never gave the seal to Ly Pros, who then ordered a ministry guard at the gate to prevent him from leaving, officials said.

Ly Thuch could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

A ministry official who declined to be named said Ly Pros had nominated two department directors and two deputy director generals. The department directors jobs, one for rural roads and one for highland minorities, were created in June.

Ly Pros has been implicated in several corruption cases at the ministry. In 1999, he was linked to a scandal involving the double-billing of a rural road construction project, which had received funding from donors in Japan and Germany.

Instead of being demoted, or punished, he was promoted to his current position with the support of Yim Chhay Ly, secretary of state for the ministry, according  to ministry and National Assemb­ly members.

Ly Pros also came under fire from parliamentarians for holding 3,265 square meters of land that is supposed to belong to the ministry. He continued to develop the land, and on June 23 lawmakers petitioned Hun Sen to remove Ly Pros from his position. They also claimed that Yim Chhay Ly was involved in the land deal.

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