Confidential documents obtained Friday implicate Prek Kdam ferry manager Phat Sareth in allegedly embezzling tens of thousands of dollars by drastically under-reporting the number of vehicles using the Kandal-based Mekong River crossing.
In his 1999 annual report to the Ministry of Public Works, Phat Sareth reported that 798 logging trucks used the crossing. But hand-written receipts signed and fingerprinted by Phat Sareth list payments from GAT and Colexim logging companies for 1,540 trucks during an eight-month period in 1999.
Logging trucks using the ferry each exact fees of $25 to $30.
Phat Sareth on Tuesday admitted issuing the roughly $40,000 in receipts, but he denied that he embezzled the unreported money. He said the ferry doesn’t make enough money to cover its expenses and he is forced to borrow money from logging companies. He then issues hand-written receipts in lieu of future ferry crossings, Phat Sareth maintained.
“I am the boss here, so I can do everything to solve [problems] according to my people’s needs,” he said. “I need money first and made negotiations later with
companies, repaying them by exchanging [free use of the ferry] by their trucks.”
He added that he still owes Colexim logging company $5,000 worth of ferry crossings.
Finance Ministry officials are now investigating Prek Kdam after Public Works officials brought “irregularities” in the ferry’s annual report to their attention, Public Works Undersecretary of State Uk Chan said Monday.
Rumors of corruption at Prek Kdam first surfaced last month following a damning report compiled by some ferry employees and forwarded to Sam Rainsy 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.
An undercover investigation by the Public Works and Transport Ministry seemed to confirm the allegations, according to one ministry official who asked not to be named.
But in a July 18 letter to Finance Minister Keat Chhon, 38 ferry workers denied that their boss is corrupt. They also denied helping compile the report accusing him of corruption.
However, a ferry worker on Friday said his boss coerced him and his coworkers into thumb-printing a blank sheet of paper. Phat Sareth then filled in paper as a letter to Keat Chhon protesting his innocence, the ferry worker alleged.
“I am working under him, so I must follow his instructions,” the ferry worker said. “No one wanted to thumbprint, but we dare not oppose [Phat Sareth.]”
Undersecretary of State for Finance Ngy Tayi on Tuesday declined to comment on the issue, referring all questions to Keat Chhon. Keat Chhon could not be reached for comment.