Cambodia probes corruption allegations from international health fund

Cambodia's government anticorruption agency has launched an investigation into allegations of corruption involving the handling of money from an international fund to fight infectious diseases, a senior official of the watchdog agency said.

Chhay Savuth, deputy chairman of the Anti-Corruption Unit, told Kyodo News his office has opened an investigation after the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria alleged more than $12 million in funding had been compromised by the National Malaria Center and National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD Control.

The Global Fund, based in Geneva, said officials at the National Malaria Center had received $410,000 in bribes and about $20,000 in gifts from Vestergaard Frandsen and Sumitomo Chemical Singapore Pte Ltd., two of the world's largest providers of mosquito nets, in a bid to secure government contracts to provide the netting.

The Global Fund also alleged the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD Control had directed $317,000 of Global Fund money to companies that had paid bribes.

In a statement released in Geneva on Nov. 14, Mark Dybul, executive director of the Global Fund, said, "We cannot tolerate unethical conduct anywhere."

"Although this case had no direct impact on Cambodia's fight against malaria, taking commissions in exchange for contracts violates our mission of public service," he said.

The Global Fund said it has suspended contracts with Vestergaard Frandsen and Sumitomo Chemical Singapore, pending a full review.

The Global Fund said it began investigating allegations of corrupt practices among Cambodian fund recipients in 2011.

Phay Siphan, a spokesman of the Council of Ministers, said the government will conduct a full investigation.

"According to Cambodian law, the person who bribes and the person who receives the bribe will receive same judgment if found guilty," he added.

The Ministry of Health, which supervises the two government health agencies, said it has nothing to do with the corruption scandal.

The Global Fund has supported programs in Cambodia to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, with $331 million disbursed since 2003, playing a key role in helping Cambodia curtail malaria deaths by 80 percent, reducing tuberculosis cases by 45 percent and HIV infections by 50 percent.

The Ministry of Health handled the money directly for the fund until 2009. After that, the National Malaria Center and the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD Control received the funding on their own.