World Bank Official Denies Graft Charges

A World Bank official has dismissed charges of corruption against the bank’s country director for Cambodia after an internal investigation found nothing to substantiate the allegations, which were first published in an e-mail newsletter widely circulated in Phnom Penh.

The allegations published in the Khmer Intelligence newsletter of misconduct and corruption against Bonaventure Mbida-Essama were not backed up with specific or credible evidence that would warrant a full investigation, according to Maarten LJ de Jong, director of the World Bank’s de­partment of Institutional Integrity.

“The investigation has concluded that there is insufficient information to justify the conduct of a full investigation and, in the absence of evidence that substantiates the allegations, the matter should be closed,” de Jong wrote in a letter to Khmer Intelligence.

In fact, the charges appeared to be based on nothing more than rumor, he added.

“You may wish to note that the intentional or negligent publication of false information concerning an individual could be grounds for legal action,” de Jong concludes.

Khmer Intelligence has emerged in recent months among Cambodia’s print media as a showcase of strongly-worded and often unsourced stories about Cam­bodia’s leaders. The politicial leanings of the publication would indicate that its authors support the opposition party of Sam Rainsy, but it is published anonymously and no one has taken credit for the newsletter.

Sam Rainsy Cabinet Chief Phi Thach said the newsletter has no affiliation with the opposition party. He said he would be un­happy if it turned out that the newsletter originated with one of the major political parties in Cambodia.

“I have no evidence to prove to you that it is from the Sam Rainsy party,” said Phi Thach. “I don’t like this if it is from any political party.”

The report on Mbida-Essama first appeared in the Dec 22 issue of Khmer Intelligence and made general remarks about Mbida-Essama that implied he was engaged in corrupt activities connected to his World Bank projects.

Mbida-Essama had also recently weathered a raft of corruption charges for his handling of a World Bank project that paid soldiers to become civilians. The multi-million dollar demobilization program relied in part on World Bank funds to give retiring soldiers a new moto, along with rice, clothes, basic tools, mosquito nets and other items.

Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay said Mbida-Essama had ignored problems within the program, but Mbida-Essama replied that the opposition had “an axe to grind. They cannot understand the reports,” he told The Cambodia Daily.

Mbida-Essama left his post in Cambodia earlier this month to take a job at the Washington, DC, headquarters of the World Bank. His replacement, Nisha Agrawal, who formerly worked for the bank in Vietnam, begins her new post Monday.

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