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Tribunal Administrator Answers Allegations

With corruption allegations continuing to hound the Khmer Rouge tribunal and with the Cambodian side of the courts continually cash-strapped, the chief administrator said in a rare interview Wednesday the allegations leveled against his office were products of ulterior motives, politics, and even “destructors.”

The man at the center of the court’s corruption woes is Sean Visoth, the director of administration for the tribunal. He has not been to work in four months, even though the tribunal has begun its first trial, of prison chief Duch. He spoke to VOA Khmer by phone from Phnom Penh.

“I can say that this is a power struggle,” he said of allegations his office had mismanaged the tribunal and that Cambodian staff have been forced to pay kickbacks in order to work at the tribunal. “Who controls this court? This issue is what is causing this problem. All these elements are politically motivated.”

By way of explaining, he quoted a Cambodian proverb: “If you want to get a dog killed, say the dog is mad.”

Corruption allegations have followed the tribunal from the get-go, just after the court stood up in 2006. By February 2007, the Open Society Justice Initiative had issued a statement saying its monitors were hearing about kickbacks. And in 2008, several Cambodian whistleblowers reported to the UN they were forced to pay senior officials to keep their jobs. The UN investigated but has not made those findings public.

Sean Visoth said Wednesday he had been to the United Nations in New York twice at the end of 2008, “for discussions,” but he would not elaborate. He denied any allegations of corruption in his office, and said seven different auditing teams had been unable to find evidence to support the claims.

These investigations made a clean bill of health, he said, and the so-called whistleblowers were in fact disgruntled Cambodian staff members who had moved over to the UN side of the court. He declined to say whether he could take legal action against them for their allegations, but said instead the former staff members could “only cheat children” and were “tribunal destructors.”

Meanwhile, he said, the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Service did no t have jurisdiction over his office, which is on the Cambodian side of the UN-backed tribunal.

Still, the allegations have been enough for some donors to freeze funding, and the Cambodian side of the court was only able to pay its staff for March with the help of an emergency $200,000 from Japan.

Sean Visoth said the Cambodian side has always had difficulties with funding, so it would make no difference whether he stepped down amid the allegations. He has been on medical leave since November 2008, but his doctors have not yet cleared him to return to work.

“Since the start-up, this court has not received a big budget package,” he said. The donors “drop [funds] just like they’ve hung up an IV, drop by drop, and wait and see.”

Even in these conditions, he said, the court was able to pass its internal rules more quickly than expected, arrested five suspects in just four months, and had a lower cost and wider public participation than other war crimes tribunals.