The year is 1945 and Cambodian men are packed into traditional longboats, ready to race each other in an event that “has been going on for more than 1,000 years” at the annual Water Festival in Phnom Penh.
The National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs (NCHADS) has paid back its small portion of the $473,000 in bribes diverted by officials from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a Ministry of Health official said Monday.
After a yearslong audit of some of its past grants to Cambodia, the Global Fund in November released a detailed report accusing health officials—who have since left their jobs—of pocketing well over $400,000 in bribes to secure contracts related to the supply of mosquito nets for the Ministry of Health.
The NGO Medicam was also found to have overcharged the Fund by nearly $21,000.
On December 9, the Global Fund sent the Health Ministry a letter asking it, Medicam and NCHADS to pay back their share of $473,000 in 30 days or risk losing all, or part, of pending grants of $106 million.
On Monday, NCHADS director Mean Chhi Vun said his center had repaid the Global Fund its roughly $40,000 share.
“We paid it back. Now they give us more money for 2014 and 2015 and the amount is $71.1 million,” Mr. Chhi Vun said. “The person who was involved has already paid back the money, that’s why the Global Fund gave us this money for the next mandate.”
Mr. Chhi Vun declined to comment further and did not specify who was involved in taking the kickbacks, though a former NCHADS procurement officer is accused of taking bribes in the Global Fund report.
Global Fund spokesman Seth Faison confirmed that some of the money had been paid back.
“We have received a payment from NCHADS, and we commend NCHADS for acting promptly on a Global Fund request,” he said. “We also received a partial payment from Medicam. We look forward to similar cooperation from CNM [the National Malaria Center]. We expect all parties to be fully accountable for their management practices.”
The bulk of the $473,000 the Global Fund wants back—from the Health Ministry—was paid in bribes to former CNM director Duong Socheat.
Officials at the Health Ministry and Medicam could not be reached for comment.
The government’s Anti-Corruption Unit said it is reviewing the Global Fund’s report but officials have not said anything further. None of the officials implicated in the report, nor the local firms who paid the bribes, have yet been prosecuted.
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