Three people have been arrested and four Electricite du Cambodge staff members are under investigation for their roles in an alleged scam to steal tens of thousands of dollars of state electricity, municipal and police officials said Tuesday.
Lek Vannak, deputy municipal police chief, said Tuesday that three people have been arrested from the Chea Rithy Electricity Co for allegedly fixing electric meters so they would move slowly or even in reverse.
Four other staffers from the company—a private firm that has been distributing state electricity to hotels, bars and hundreds of residence since 1993—have been detained by municipal police for questioning, he added.
Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said Tuesday that four staff members at Electricite du Cambodge are also under investigation for possibly being accomplices in the theft of electricity.
Lek Vannak said police believe the private firm worked closely with a number of staff members at EdC in stealing at least tens of thousands of dollars of electricity.
“They cooperated with each other for a long time but we had no evidence to catch all of them,” Lek Vannak said.
“At the beginning, the stealing is small then it became very big. We lost a lot from the national budget, but we don’t know how much yet.”
Lek Vannak said police are close to having enough evidence to arrest the EdC staff members.
Doung Sitha, deputy chief of criminal police, said Tuesday the seven employees from Chea Rithy Electricity were arrested or detained in raids Friday night and Saturday.
Officials from the company couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
Ty Norin, deputy executive director at EdC, said Tuesday a separate investigation is currently being undertaken by EDC to assess the extent of the electricity theft problem.
“We are not exactly sure….It is very difficult to say how much [was stolen]….until we conclude the report,” said Ty Norin.
Ty Norin, who is in charge of corporate planning and projects for EdC, said it is fortunate that police uncovered the alleged scam. “This is a big shock for me. But I am a little bit happy because it will clear up our operation. If we stayed like that we cannot go ahead,” said Ty Norin.
Private operators such as Chea Rithy Electricity were introduced in 1991 by the municipality to protect the power supply from thieves. In return, the wholesalers were allowed to sell state electricity at a higher rate.
Up to 1998, approximately 170 of the functioning 300 sub-stations and 200 pole-mounted transformers were privately operated by electricity wholesalers, according to EdC. But the government ordered EdC to start eliminating the wholesalers or private sub-station operators following a public outcry over a plan to raise electricity rates around the city in 1998. The private operators had long been suspected of inflating prices to consumers.
According to Ty Norin, Chea Rithy Electricity should not have been in operation. “I want to understand clearly also…why they still remain,” said Ty Norin.
Chea Sophara said Chea Rithy Electricity was distributing power to at least 15 hotels in the area as well as hundreds of residences.
According to Chea Sophara, the government’s distribution of electricity has improved massively since the early 1990s but still the government loses millions of dollars on the business each year.
“They have a very big opportunity to make corruption…[But] the government loses $20 million a year [from electricity]….“This is a new millennium and there will be no more corruption,” he said.
Officials say the alleged scam was uncovered when police and an electrical technician checked electricity meters installed by the Chea Rithy Electricity and found they were not registering the amount of electricity actually being used by establishments.
Ith Praing, secretary of state at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said Tuesday he was unaware of the investigation into staff members at EdC, noting it was an internal EdC matter.