The Council of Ministers has issued an order transferring Prek Kdam ferry chief Phat Sareth to a new post pending further investigations into allegations that he pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in ferry money, officials said Thursday.
The move comes more than two months after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered Phat Sareth’s removal. Late last year, the Ministry of Finance sent a committee to investigate allegations of corruption at the Tonle Sap crossing.
The committee concluded that Phat Sareth should be removed from his post and repay $77,000 to the government, a figure one committee member called conservative. But Phat Sareth maintained his innocence and refused to pay the money or resign.
Rumors of corruption at Prek Kdam surfaced last year following a damning report compiled by ferry employees and forwarded to Sam Rainsy Party Parliamentarian Yim Sokha.
According to the report, Phat Sareth failed to report more than 2,000 logging trucks using the ferry in 1998 and 1999. Logging trucks pay between $25 to $30 each to make the Kandal province crossing.
But in a subsequent letter to Finance Minister Keat Chhon, 38 ferry workers denied their boss is corrupt. A ferry worker later said he and the others were coerced into signing that statement.
At first, Phat Sareth said he was taking the money as advance payment for ferry crossings in order to do necessary maintenance.
In November, however, he said he gave the money to ferry workers using what he called, “the same tradition as everyone else in the government.”
Phat Sareth will be moved to another post at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said Undersecretary of State Suong Heng. The move will take place after Minister Khy Taing Lim returns from Thailand April 26.
Correction: In the story “Eight More VN Refugees Leave for US” (April 19, page 1), Chea Sim’s Cabinet chief’s name was misspelled. It is spelled Chea Son.