US legal group urges full probe into corruption allegations against judges of Khmer Rouge tribunal

A New-York based legal group has urged a full probe into corruption allegations against judges of the long-awaited Khmer Rouge tribunal, prompting a quick dismissal Thursday by the tribunal's office.

The Open Society Justice Initiative, or OSJI, cited allegations "that Cambodian court personnel, including judges, must kick back a significant percentage of their wages to Cambodian government officials in exchange for their positions on the court."

In a statement received Thursday, the OSJI called for the allegations to be investigated "thoroughly, fairly and quickly." It did not cite the source of the accusations.

Helen Jarvis, a spokeswoman of the tribunal, which is scheduled to begin hearings later this year, called the allegations "unsubstantiated."

Jarvis, an Australian who helped the Cambodian government set up the U.N.-backed tribunal, said she didn't know where the accusations stemmed from. She said a routine financial audit of the tribunal was underway but it has "absolutely nothing to do with any allegations."

The corruption accusations could, however, deal another blow to the already troubled tribunal.

"If these allegations of corruption are confirmed, it would strip the (tribunal) of its integrity and undermine its ability to provide accountability for mass crimes," James A. Goldston, OSJI executive director, was quoted saying in the statement.

The tribunal was created by a 2003 agreement between Cambodia and the United Nations after years of difficult negotiations to bring those behind the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime to justice, the AP report.

The radical policies of the now-defunct communist group, which held power from 1975-79, led to the deaths of some 1.7 million people from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition.

After long delays, the tribunal is set to convene later this year. But trials could face further delay because of continued disagreement between Cambodian and foreign judges on draft rules for governing the proceedings.

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