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Bunsak given title, promoted by government after graft allegations

CHRAC Secretary-General Suon Bunsak (third-left) attends a compensation meeting last year between villagers and Phnom Penh Sugar in Kampong Speu.
CHRAC Secretary-General Suon Bunsak (third-left) attends a compensation meeting last year between villagers and Phnom Penh Sugar in Kampong Speu. Photo supplied

Bunsak given title, promoted by government after graft allegations

Former Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC) Director Suon Bunsak, who was implicated last year in a corruption scandal and subsequently resigned from his position, has been given by the government the new honorific of “His Excellency” and promoted to a position as adviser to the Ministry of Environment.

A royal decree, signed by King Norodom Sihamoni on October 23 and obtained by The Post yesterday, appoints the former embattled NGO chief as an adviser to the Ministry of Environment in a rank equal to director general.

He was accused of colluding with Phnom Penh Sugar, a company owned by tycoon Ly Yong Phat, in a land dispute in Kampong Speu province between the company and hundreds of villagers, and of soliciting a bribe from a consultant in 2015.

Bunsak resigned in September last year over the allegations. The Ministry of Environment could not be reached yesterday, but those familiar with Bunsak’s work questioned his qualifications for the position.

Former CHRAC rights consultant Billy Tai, a former colleague and also the consultant whom Bunsak allegedly asked for a bribe, said the former NGO chief had made it clear on several occasions that he aspired to work for the government. “His motive [for working for an NGO] was: it was just a job to pay the paycheck. He was always waiting for a better opportunity to come in,” he said.

While Tai wasn’t surprised that Bunsak now had a government position, he doubted his former colleague was qualified to work as an adviser for the Ministry of Environment, except in a role to advise about NGO activities. “It’s a hugely challenging issue,” he said. “I don’t think he’s qualified for the job.”

Nonetheless, this fits Bunsak’s personality, he said. “He’s a survivor . . . He will always find a job, one that probably pays better.”

Prom Sophal, Bunsak’s successor as CHRAC director before it closed in March after donors pulled support, said that he was “very surprised” by the appointment. “He has no expertise on environment,” he said, explaining that CHRAC didn’t have an environment programme.

A man responding to a telephone number listed at the bottom of Bunsak’s email signature and on the Facebook page of his consulting company – Cambodia Commercial Dot Com – denied that he was Bunsak and hung up on a reporter. The phone was switched off for the rest of the day.

Last week’s royal decree also bestows the honorific and Environment Ministry advisory positions on five others: Mam Rasmey, Taing Vantha, Kirth Chankrisna, Khun Bunny and Moun Ramady. Ea Vuthy, meanwhile, was appointed adviser to the National Council for Sustainable Development.

The dispute between Phnom Penh Sugar and villagers occurred in Kampong Speu province, not in Koh Kong province as previously stated. The Post apologises for the error.

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