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Friday, January 14, 2011

Officials begin asset declaration to counter corruption

More than 100,000 government officials have begun the task of asset declaration, a secret process required by the new anti-corruption law aimed at helping in investigations.

Government ministry officials have until March to add up their worth and send it to anti-corruption authorities, as the country tries to tackle a deeply ingrained culture of graft.

“The asset declaration is a legal measure to prevent corruption,” said Keo Remy, spokesman for the National Anti-Corruption Council, which, along with the separate Anti-Corruption Unit, was formed by the new law as well. “The asset declaration is made in secret, a first and historic condition to safeguard each official’s physical and mental safety, and particularly the country’s political stability.”

Officials from the rank of undersecretary and chief of department up are to fill in declaration forms, which include property listings, to make future auditing for corrupt practices easier.

Nov Sowatharo, secretary of state for the Ministry of Information, said the process was not complicated. It required filling out two sets of forms and putting them into two envelops.

“We filled out the form secretly,” he said. “After closing the envelops, we give it to the ministry's agent, who submits ministry officials' declarations to the Anti-Corruption Unit.”

The ACU then takes the envelops, stamps them with a seal and returns one copy to the owner.

Sean Borath, deputy chief of the ACU, said no one has the authority to open the envelops, unless an official is suspected of corruption. The sealed declaration then becomes part of an investigation and is opened.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, said the secret nature of the declarations means less transparency and the potential for abuse. “I believe that a secret asset declaration has little effectiveness,” he said.

Keo Remy said secret asset declaration was built into the law, which passed last year after decades of drafts and delays. The law provides punishment of up to 15 years in jail for the worst offenses.

Supporters of the law say it will help improve Cambodia's poor corruption record. The country is ranked No. 154 of 178 countries for corruption by Transparency International.

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Senior Cambodian police officers charged with drug-related corruption

By The Associated Press (CP)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Two senior Cambodian police officers were charged Friday with corruption, while a top anti-drug official has been detained for questioning, an anti-corruption official said.

A provincial police chief and his deputy were charged by the Banteay Meanchey provincial court, said Om Yentieng, head of the government's anti-corruption unit.

They were arrested several days ago by the anti-corruption unit on suspicion of taking bribes to release drug trafficking suspects, he said.

Om Yentieng also said the secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs has been detained on suspicion of activities related to drug trafficking and is being questioned.

Under Cambodia's first anti-corruption law, passed last year after more than a decade of delays, any official found guilty of taking bribes faces up to 15 years in prison. Cambodia, a poor country heavily dependent on foreign aid, is routinely listed by groups such as Transparency International as one of the most corrupt in Asia.

Om Yentieng said his agency found that the officers in Banteay Meanchey had received bribes from drug traffickers.

"After arresting the traffickers, they received the offenders' money for changing the confessions and the report," he said.

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Thai demonstrators call for tougher stand against Cambodia

Bangkok - Several hundred Thai protestors gathered at Government House and the Defence Ministry in Bangkok Friday to demand a tougher stand against Cambodia for its arrest of seven Thais along the two countries' border.

The demonstrators called for the resignation of Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan for allegedly failing to respond adequately to the arrest of the seven Thais by Cambodian authorities on charges of trespassing on Cambodian territory on December 29.

The protestors identified themselves as members of the Thai Patriots Network, which had earlier planned to march along the border near the Thai town of Aranyaprathet to voice their outrage at the Cambodian government.

'For the time being we won't go to Aranyaprathet,' said Thai Patriots Network leader Chaiwat Sinsuwong. 'But our duty still remains.'

Chaiwat insisted the seven arrested Thais, including member of parliament from the ruling Democrat Party Panich Vikitsreth and Veera Somkwamkid, an activist in the nationalist movement known as the yellow shirts, had been on Thai territory when they were detained by Cambodian troops.

During an earlier court hearing in Cambodia, Panich's lawyer said he had been visiting a border village 'to address the complaints of [Thai] villagers,' adding that the villagers had alleged that a border marker had been moved by Cambodians to encroach on Thai territory.

The protestors' proposed protest march along the border has been strongly opposed by the Thai government and by residents of the area who depend on cross-border trade for their livelihoods.
Earlier Friday, representatives of the New Politics Party, an offshoot of the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy, submitted a letter to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva demanding that he revoke a border agreement signed in 2000 due to alleged violations of Thai sovereignty by Cambodian forces.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban on Friday criticized the Thai Patriots Network and its allies for playing politics with the already volatile Thai-Cambodia border situation.

'Although the patriots have the constitutional right to peaceful assembly, they are obligated not to cause any disruptions to the people,' Suthep said.
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