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Three Pursat officials charged with corruption

A Pursat provincial land management director and his two subordinates were charged in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday. National Police

A Pursat provincial land management director and his two subordinates were charged in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday for taking bribes to issue construction permits.

Kuch Kimlong, spokesman of the municipal court, confirmed that prosecutors charged the department’s director, Liem Bunroeun; deputy Cheang Vuthy; and department official Te Buntheng with misappropriation of public funds.

The trio were also accused of abusing their power and laundering money, Kimlong said, but declined to elaborate in more detail.

Bunroeun, Vuthy and Buntheng were arrested on Saturday in Pursat City’s Phteah Prey commune by Anti Corruption Unit officials led by ACU chairman Om Yentieng.

Yentieng could not be reached for comment on Wednesday but said on Sunday that Bunroeun was arrested over accusations that he demanded money from a construction firm owner to approve his project.

The director first asked for $40,000. Bunroeun then created problems in the project’s approval and demanded $100,000 for a construction license, with 50 percent paid up front, Yentieng said.

On July 26, the owner paid $5,000 to the provincial land management department director in his office, Yentieng said. The next day, the ACU set a trap as the owner paid the remaining $45,000 to Bunroeun at Mohaleap Restaurant in the commune, after which he was arrested along with one of his subordinates. The other land department official was arrested in his office later that day.

Kheang Seng, vice chairman of the ACU, declined to comment.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday ordered the Anti-Corruption Unit to intensify its crackdown on corrupt government officials following the arrests of the three Pursat officials.

Hun Sen said he would directly assign ACU officials to conduct investigations and immediately arrest any government officials who are suspected of taking bribes regarding land, illegal logging and other activities.

“These past few days I have been working on how to deal with government officials suspected of corruption,” he said. “From now on, I will send ACU officials to make immediate arrests.”

“Just do it right away — no need to wait [for permission],” Hun Sen added.

Referring to the three Pursat officials nabbed on Saturday, Hun Sen said he had worked with the ACU in planning the trap.

“They are ruining the nation and the Hun Sen administration. Do not just withdraw their positions, but freeze all their assets,” he said.

San Chey, executive director of Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said the growth in the construction sector and the complicated process of obtaining permits fueled corruption.

“Following up on this crackdown, the government will want to clear the construction sector of corruption because now there are many construction sites,” Chey said.

He noted that the large size and value of many construction sites gave officials in the sector the opportunity to demand and receive sizable bribes.