One former and three current administrators at the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC) have been banned from organizing professional sports for life after being accused of pocketing tournament sponsorship money.
A statement released by the FFC on Tuesday named the officials as the organization’s former deputy secretary-general May Tola, as well as senior current officials Chhaing Pisedh, Tuy Vicheika and Koul Sophearum.
It said the officials stood accused of “irregular” activities and corruption related to the organization of the annual Tiger Street Football event, an advertising-heavy competition sponsored by the Heineken International-owned Tiger Beer brand.
FFC secretary-general Keo Sareth told a press conference at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday that the federation had run an internal investigation into the handling of the sponsorship money over a period of five years.
“Our research committee collected all of the relevant documents and reviewed them, and found that there were irregularities,” Sareth told reporters. “This case involves nearly $60,000 that Tiger Company provided from 2015 to 2019.”
“These actions have truly destroyed the FFC’s reputation and impacted on Cambodia’s honor,” he said, adding the officials had admitted wrongdoing.
“They provided testimony that they have committed these actions.”
Sareth said that Tola — who he said left his job as a deputy secretary-general the FFC in September 2019 — was the leader of the operation and would be taken to court over the embezzlement. Tola was in charge of the entire budget for Tiger Street Football, he said, and had taken advantage of his responsibilities.
“If we did not take action on this case, it would seriously affect the FFC’s leaders as well as Cambodia,” he said.
FFC president Sao Sokha, who also commands the National Military Police and is a deputy commander of the military, could not be reached for comment.
Reached by telephone, Tola said that he had no comment on the accusations.
“I ask to not comment and wait for the action taken by the FFC,” he said.
Pech Pisey, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said he welcomed the action being taken over corruption inside the football body but that the Anti-Corruption Unit should have been asked to investigate too.
There was a chance others were involved and only an external investigation with the full force of the law would be able to determine that, he said.
“If there is an embezzlement case, it should have been investigated by the Anti Corruption Unit,” Pisey said. “The important thing is that they must have a transparent and independent investigation to make sure that all of the relevant parties can get justice, because this is a suspicious case.”
He added any lack of transparency about what happened could cause corporate sponsors to be less willing to provide money for events in Cambodia in future.
“In general, we want investigations to be fair and independent — and if they find irregularities, they should be punished by the law,” Pisey said.
ACU chairman Om Yentieng could not be reached for comment.
By telephone, a Tiger Company representative also declined to comment on the case. “I can not provide a comment as I am not in charge of this case,” she said.