A Change of Guard

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Thursday, 28 April 2016

Asking about RCAF envelopes could be crime, says ACU boss

Manekseka Sangkum: Ask no questions and you won't get any criminal prosecution?


Om Yentieng, head of the Anti-Corruption Unit, speaks to the media earlier this week during a press conference at the unit’s Phnom Penh headquarters. Sreng Meng Srun

Asking about RCAF envelopes could be crime, says ACU boss
Wed, 27 April 2016 ppp
Mech Dara and Niem Chheng

The sons of Om Yentieng – the Anti-Corruption Unit chief who is personally spearheading widely criticised probes into opposition figures and members of civil society – have been promoted to “assistants” to the body and given higher ranks.

Slammed as “nepotistic” by one transparency advocate, news of the promotion came as Yentieng threatened legal action against yet another opposition figure, Khmer Power Party (KPP) president Sourn Seray Ratha, who had asked the anti-graft boss to clarify what was in envelopes he distributed to soldiers in Preah Vihear province on April 6.

Yentieng – who has held several recent press conferences to publicise details of high-profile investigations relating to an alleged affair by CNRP acting president Kem Sokha and has at times asked speculative questions about those in the crosshairs – said Ratha had no right to request “clarifications” about corruption and may have committed a crime simply by asking.

“The ACU would like to inform you that according to Article 13 and 22 of the Anti-Corruption Law, only the ACU has a mandate to investigate and request a clarification from ministries, institutions or individuals regarding corruption,” the letter reads.

“In this sense, if you request a clarification from ministries, institutions or an individual, you may face a criminal charge under Article 609 [of the criminal code] regarding unlawful interference in the performance of public functions.”

Article 609 carries a penalty of between one and three years in prison.

Responding yesterday, Ratha said he was not worried.

“It is funny that he said we interfered with their job,” Ratha said. “Our letter did not prevent them from performing their work, it did not interfere with an arrest, investigation or questioning.”

“We just wanted to know what was inside the envelopes.”

Speaking yesterday, head of RCAF’s Division 3, Srey Deuk, whose soldiers received the envelopes from Yentieng, declined to elaborate on their contents for the Post.

“If [Ratha] wants to know, he should come here directly. I will tell him,” he said.

Lawyer Sok Sam Oeun, an expert in Cambodian law, said asking for clarification was not interfering in public functions, while handing out small amounts of private cash to soldiers also did not appear to be a problem.

In his letter, Yentieng, who was unreachable yesterday, reiterates that Ratha can switch his request for clarification to a formal complaint, which the ACU would “discuss” before arranging a meeting.

San Chhay, coordinator of the Affiliated Network For Social Accountability in East Asia, slammed the ACU’s double standards when applying the Anti-Corruption Law, pointing to its quick embrace of questionable cases against opposition members, and its inaction on widely reported incidents of corruption.

Chhay also criticised the decision to promote Yentieng’s sons – Yentieng Puthirith and Yentieng Puthira – to assistants at the ACU along with 16 other people.

The decision, included in an April 23 royal decree, promotes Puthirith to a secretary of state rank and Puthira to an undersecretary of state.

“This is not a good picture and it will impact any chance of independent reform,” Chhay said, noting the inherent conflict of interests of having such a family network within an anti-corruption body. “We see it as [Yentieng] preparing his heirs . . . the public will not be happy.”

However, Nuon Bophal, the ACU deputy president, dismissed the criticism, citing the pair’s previous work assisting ACU investigation and educational backgrounds.

“They are suitable for this according to their age and capability,” Bophal said.

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