The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has rescinded its threats to block a $2.2 million grant for Dr Beat Richner’s three children’s hospitals in Cambodia, Richner said Tuesday.
Richner, known to many as the cello-playing pediatrician Beatocello, said he received official word from the SDC early Tuesday confirming that the agency will only recommend, instead of require, that he sign contracts with the Cambodian government.
“At the moment, I cannot sign a contract because a contract is dangerous,” Richner said in an interview.
He said the contract would require him to adhere to the ministry’s medical requirements and pay taxes amounting to about $500,000 per year. He also said the contract also demands compliance with some medical practices he considers unsafe—even “genocide.”
“I will not pay into a system that is corrupt,” he said.
Swiss honorary counsel to Cambodia Pierre Tami said he could not comment on the issue, saying it is a dispute between the SDC and Richner. Tami could not confirm whether the SDC had lifted its block to the funds. Officials at the SDC in Bern refused to comment as well, saying they would release a statement later.
Minister of Health Hong Sun Huot did not answer telephone calls seeking comment. Chea Sokhim, chief of international affairs at the Ministry of Health, dismissed Richner’s allegations of corruption and said contracts are standard between the ministry and NGOs.
“Since 1997, [Richner and his associates] have an oral agreement,” he said. “When they have no agreement and they want to import [medicines] from abroad, they have trouble because the [Center for Disease Control] may not allow it. And if they come to the Ministry of Health for support, we cannot give it.”
Richner said he has not had trouble importing medicines from abroad.
In reports last week, SDC head Walter Fust said he worried about the legal stability of Richner’s hospitals in Cambodia.
“We can’t use taxpayers’ money if the long-term viability of the hospital isn’t legally secure,” he said in an interview printed in Swissinfo, a news service produced by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.
Richner dismissed the SDC concerns. “If I die, anybody [knows] this hospital belongs to me,” he said.
Richner has been attempting to raise nearly $16 million for construction of a new hospital in Phnom Penh, for which he will break ground on Aug 1. He said he believed the SDC’s threats were a political ploy aimed at stalling his attempts to raise funds in Switzerland. “This was a game to block this construction—indirectly, to block the collection of the money,” he said.