Social Affairs Ministry Probe Reveals Graft

The Ministry of Economy and Finance last week asked the Mini­stry of Social Affairs to return more than $5 million allegedly em­­bezzled from government coffers through falsified budgets and pensions collected in the names of “ghost” veterans, according to a letter from the finance minister.

In a July 5 letter, Finance Mini­ster Keat Chhon wrote to Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng, saying a recent AntiCorruption Unit probe had revealed evidence of broad-based malfeasance.

“I would like to inform Your Ex­cellency that by the cooperation among officials at 24 provincial depart­ments of social affairs, veteran and youth rehabilitation, the AntiCorruption Unit has uncovered suspicions from a number of ghost [veterans] and irregularities totaling 22,472,742,000 riel [about $5.48 million] that must be returned into the state budget and must be cut off from” this year’s payouts of benefits, Mr Chhon said in the letter.

The letter said some 8.9 billion riel, or about $2.2 million, had been illegally spent on “ghost” veterans and supposedly disabled officials. Another 13,917,689,309 riel, or about $3.4 million, had been illegally spent on knowingly overstated ad­­vance payments for expenses.

“In order to coordinate this measure, the Ministry of Economy and Finance would like to request the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation to advise expert officials to provide a detailed figure of ghost, prerequisite and irregular procurement that each department has confessed to the ACU,” he added.

Mr Sam Heng, the social affairs minister, could not be reached and Yi Yaun, secretary of state, de­clined to comment when asked how and when the ministry would repay the government.

“We have seen this, too, and we are managing it,” Khuon Ranin, undersecretary of state and Cabinet director at the ministry, said yesterday. He declined to discuss in any detail the alleged mismanagement of state funds and whether anyone would be held responsible.

“I did not know,” Mr Ranin said. “It is the jurisdiction of the Anti­Corruption Unit.”

Om Yentieng, head of the ACU; the unit’s spokesman, Keo Remy; and Finance Ministry officials were unavailable.

In a speech last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned officials at the Ministry of Social Affairs that officials could face prosecution over an ACU investigation that found widespread embezzlement of veteran pensions.

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