Swedes Pledge to Probe Mobitel Payments

Swedish lawmakers are looking into what a senior parliamentarian alleges is a Cambodian bribery scandal after learning a Swedish telecommunications company is involved in the allegations.

In a letter to Son Chhay, chairman of the National Assembly’s committee on telecommunications, Swedish House Speaker Birgitta Dahl said lawmakers in Sweden are concerned about the $2,500 monthly salary Telecom­munications Minister So Khun receives for his advisory position from Mobitel, a joint venture be­tween Cambodia’s Royal Group and Swedish Millicom Inter­national.

“Practices of this kind you de­scribe are totally intolerable,” Dahl stated. She said the Swedish government made that position clear to Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng when he was in Stock­holm in late March.

Dahl said that any allegations of corruption or bribery involving Swedish companies are now “un­der official scrutiny and political debate.”

She said she had requested the Swedish Chief Public Prosecutor look into the matter.

Dahl’s letter was an official response to opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay, who sent a letter to Dahl in early March explaining that So Khun admitted to receiving the monthly salary from Mobitel at a National As­sembly committee hearing.

“They are looking into all legal aspects by using existing legislation,” Son Chhay said Wednes­day. “This is a big thing in Swe­den. Hopefully they will do something to act against this company.”

Mobitel general manager Da­vid Spriggs and Royal Group chairman Kith Meng could not be reached for comments.

Cambodian parliamentarians have criticized Mobitel for paying salaries to government officials  in policy-making positions. They said the payments allowed Mobi­tel to operate its Internet service TeleSurf without a specialized license required by the ministry.

However, when questioned, So Khun said the monthly salary did not constitute a conflict of interest with his work as the minister, in which he overseas all private telecommunications operators.

“All work has to be paid for. I am not biased toward Mobitel,” So Khun told the committee.

So Khun’s advisory role and special salary are not unusual in the Cambodian government. At the Ministry of Telecom­muni­cations, many high-ranking officials hold advisory positions at all private phone operators, partly because the ministry holds shares of those companies.

Experts and donors alike have recommended that Cambodia separate the regulatory body from the operators. The World Bank is reviewing the Telecommunications Ministry’s structure and regulations.


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