UN officials in New York are now reviewing allegations of kickbacks made by Cambodian staff at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the court’s chief UN administrator said in an interview Monday.
More than one Cambodian court staffer has come forward since June 25 to make allegations of kickbacks, which are now being studied at the UN’s independent Office of Internal Oversight Services in New York, said the court’s Deputy Director of Administration, Knut Rosandhaug.
“The information is in New York,” Rosandhaug said, adding that there has been no decision yet as to whether the information is credible and warrants further action.
Since allegations of kickbacks were first publicized in February 2007, court and government officials had maintained that no specific, actionable allegations had been received.
However, Rosandhaug said Monday that the UN Secretariat was now in possession of “concrete,” if still unverified, information.
In a June 25 memo to court staff, an enlarged, English-language version of which was posted to courthouse bulletin boards in the middle of last month, the court’s Director of Administration, Sean Visoth, reminded court staff of a duty to report misconduct and said “new allegations” had been received.
Rosandhaug, however, said that at the time the memo was written, he was not personally aware of any specific allegations. He added that Sean Visoth’s June 25 letter was likely not intended to alert the court to new and specific allegations but instead to reiterate, or “renew,” the court’s general opposition to corruption after donors expressed concerns about kickbacks in June.
“I cannot link that memo, that statement, to what I know as later allegations. But I don’t know if staff energized themselves from that statement,” Rosandhaug said.
Following the disclosure of the notice last week, Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said the court had received no specific allegations. Jarvis said Monday she did not believe the Cambodian side of the court had been informed of the new allegations mentioned by Rosandhaug.
“As far as I know, nothing has been given to the Cambodian side…hence, I can’t really comment,” she said.
Citing the ongoing review of the claims in New York, Rosandhaug declined to comment on the substance of the allegations or whether they were leveled at Cambodian or international staff.
“It’s up to the United Nations Secretariat to then assess the information being provided and see if this information is of such character that a reaction is needed. That’s not my call,” he said.
However, since the allegations were made, the atmosphere at the court felt tense, he said.
“My feeling is that the staff is under stress, and my role here is to make sure that that stress is alleviated,” Rosandhaug said. “I am hailing the staff who’ve come forward because they do Cambodia a huge favor by doing this, by stating that they want this country to move forward in a clean manner.”
“It’s very important that we all now embrace each other and make sure that due process is implemented here and nobody is looking at each other as traitors, enemies, wrongdoers,” he added.
Rosandhaug said it remained unclear when a determination could be made on the veracity of the allegations.
“If there are allegations against nationals, the United Nations do not have jurisdiction. So then the United Nations can only assist the government in pursuing the matter. But we are not there yet. We are not on the investigation level,” he added.
Of the $5.3 million that Japan, Australia, Cambodia and France have pledged this year, nearly all has gone to the court’s Cambodian side. The UN Development Program and European Commission, which together initially provided $6.2 million for the court’s Cambodian side, both said last week that any credible allegations of corruption should be investigated.
The court’s UN side is facing insolvency before the end of the year.
Rosandhaug said he was concerned the renewed concern about kickbacks at the court could make donors less willing to contribute. But he said he hoped they would help the court survive these trying times.
“Obviously I was more optimistic earlier than today. But I am still optimistic,” he said. “I am energized to pursue this in a correct manner, to convince the donor community that we can police ourselves and we will deal with irregularities.”
“I hope that the donor community stay with us, stay with the national staff, which are now trying to address something they feel is wrong, and assist the good forces of Cambodia.”