The Interior Ministry has defended spending more than $1.7 million on 54 police motorbikes of a model that debuted in 1983, saying there was no corruption involved in the deals and that they came at the best price possible. The Honda CBX750 police bikes, which cost double that recently quoted for the latest model Honda police bikes, were purchased in two batches in November 2000 and March 2002, according to contracts recently obtained.
South Africa’s Cape Town police purchased nine new, fully-equipped Honda CBX750 police patrol bikes in 2002 for approximately $10,000 each, according to South African online magazine Motoring.
That price was about $20,000 less than the price paid for each motorcycle by Cambodia’s police force.
In the US State of California, the City of Modesto received quotes for Honda’s latest police bike, the 2006-model ST1300, ranging from $14,682 to $16,020 per bike, according to a January council agenda report for the city.
That price is about half of what Cambodia paid for each of the classic CBX750 models.
Online magazine Inside Bikes describes the CBX750 as a “[p]olice spec bike, generally sold in South America, Asia and other cash-strapped police forces.”
Em Samnang, director of finance at the Interior Ministry, said in an interview in May that the pricey motorcycle purchases were completely legal.
“The purchasing price was not a result of corruption, but came out from the real situation of the market,” Em Samnang said.
The contracts for the Cambodian police bikes were even signed off on by National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy, Interior Minister Sar Kheng, and then co-interior minister You Hockry.
According to documents, in November 2000, Dul Koeun, director of the economic and finance department of the Interior Ministry, signed a contract for 24 new police escort bikes with attached Motorola walkie-talkies for $36,400 each-$35,000 for the motorbikes and $1,400 for the radio equipment-from Hoang Viet Company in Ho Chi Minh City.
The purchase came after the ministry had tried to repair older police bikes donated by Russia and Germany that were too old to use, Em Samnang said.
No local company could have supplied the Honda police bikes at a lower price, Em Samnang maintained, adding that the vehicles were needed to escort foreign dignitaries and the King.
Em Samnang said that he traveled personally to Vietnam to negotiate the price and models and brought back a catalogue for the ministry to discuss.
He added that at that time in 2000, the Interior Ministry did not have a procurement process that required advertising for companies to bid competitively on the contract, but believed that everything was conducted according to the law.
The ministry agreed to accept the Hoang Viet company’s price of $873,600 for 24 motorcycles and sent a proposal to the Finance Ministry to purchase the bikes.
“The price was not unilaterally accepted [by the Interior Ministry], but the [Finance Ministry] approved it,” Em Samnang said.
Then in April 8, 2002, a contract was signed by Hok Lundy, Sar Kheng and You Hockry to purchase 30 additional police bikes from Khan Sarith, director of the Flying Bikes shop on Street 114 in Phnom Penh.
This time the bikes still cost a whopping $29,978 each, including freight and transport insurance, but were $5,022 cheaper per bike than the 2000 purchase.
“At that time the local market was getting broader, so we could find a local company,” Em Samnang said.
“We tried our best and found a cheaper price and saved the state budget,” he said of the almost $900,000 bill.
Khan Sarith said by telephone in April that he no longer works at Flying Bikes, but added that he was contacted by the Interior Ministry regarding the Japanese-made bikes prior to the 2002 deal.
“I know somebody in the Ministry of Interior,” he said. “They just came to talk to me.”
Although his name is on the contract, Khan Sarith said he merely helped facilitate the deal and did not actually sell the bikes.
When contacted by a reporter You Hockry said Hok Lundy had all the documents related to the motorbikes and referred questions to him.
“It was a long time ago, I have forgotten it,” said You Hockry, who is currently a senior Funcinpec minister.
Asked about the procurement of the bikes, Hok Lundy referred questions to the Interior Ministry’s finance department.
Uth Chhorn, National Auditing Authority auditor general, said he has not received any complaints regarding the purchases, but would investigate if a complaint were submitted.
Finance Ministry Secretary of State Chea Peng Chheang said he had no information on the purchases.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said the National Audit Authority should investigate the deals, and alleged that more than $1 million may have been siphoned off through the motorcycle purchases.
“We would like to have Hok Lundy and others answer to this in parliament,” Son Chhay said.
“We see Hok Lundy getting richer and richer and ordinary policemen hardly have shoes to wear,” he said.
Em Samnang dismissed Son Chhay’s accusations as groundless.
“I understand his good intention in his aim to save the state budget,” Em Samnang said.
“But his words are not logical at all, it could damage the Khmer image,” he added.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he was unaware of the purchases, but was confident that government officials were not serving their own interests.
“The government and the parties outside the government are combined together and are working for the interests of the Cambodian nation,” Khieu Sopheak said.
“The corruption inside the dealing of 54 motorbikes is completely impossible,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)