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High level payoffs alleged in adoption case


Written by Bill Bainbridge

Lauryn Galindo, the former US adoption facilitator sentenced to prison in the United States on November 19, "bought political capital in Cambodia in order to make her adoption business more profitable," according to a former close associate.

Documents presented to the Seattle court that sentenced Galindo included a letter from investigators to Galindo's lawyers summarizing an interview with Dr Nancy Hendrie.

Hendrie, who works with Cambodian orphans via The Sharing Foundation (TSF), told US investigators that "Lauryn Galindo's three highest political benefactors in Cambodia were Chea Sim, [Prime Minister Hun Sen's wife] Bun Runy (sic) and [Minister for Social Affairs] Ith Sam Heng," according to the letter.

The letter quotes Hendrie saying Galindo was an "evil person who attempted to portray herself as a humanitarian in order to achieve her monetary goals."

The letter alleges that cash payments were made directly by Galindo to some of the most senior figures in the Cambodian political establishment.

"Lauryn Galindo received access to these individuals by providing them with large cash payments. Dr Nancy Hendrie stated that she witnessed cash payments being made directly to both Chea Sim and Bun Runy(sic) by Lauryn Galindo. On one occasion, Lauryn Galindo gave Bun Runy (sic) $4,000 in cash in a white envelope. Payments to Ith Sam Heng were made through an intermediary named Heang Veasna," the letter states.

The Prime Minister's advisor, Om Yienteang, said he knew nothing of the allegations against Bun Rany. "I am advisor to Samdech Hun Sen, not his wife," he said.

Hendrie said she had been misrepresented in the letter when asked about its contents by the Post. She said her lawyer took meticulous notes that supported her account of the interview.

"I have never witnessed any Cambodian official take money for other than charitable purposes," she wrote in an emailed response.

"Some of what you have read is definitely a misquote: I said that I saw Lauryn hand cash to Bun Rany Hun Sen at the time of the terrible floods in 1999 when BR Hun Sen was Red Cross President and this money was specifically for rice for the poor to be given through the Red Cross. I DID NOT state that I ever saw money given to Ith Sam Heng or to Chea Sim, as I did NOT see this at any time," she wrote.

Chea Sim is chairman of the Senate and the CPP. A spokesperson for him also rejected the allegations.

Kunthea Borey, Chea Sim's chief of protocol, said payments made by Galindo were not bribes.

"She contributed humanitarian aid for Cambodian orphans, she supported them with some equipment for education such as books, clothes, shoes, bags," Borey said.

Borey said the pair had only infrequent contact and Chea Sim was in no position to help her since adoptions were controlled by the Ministry of Social Affairs.

However, in interviews Galindo has described Sim as "like a father to me", and Sim intervened on her behalf in 1999 when Foreign Minister Hor Namhong was pushing for an investigation into bribery allegations against her.

At the time Sim wrote to the co-interior ministers Sar Kheng and You Hokry to request that adoptions by Galindo be approved.

Galindo was the self-styled pioneer of the Cambodian adoption system that has been rife with allegations of bribery and child trafficking for more than a decade.

Her trial highlighted the web of corrupt practices surrounding adoptions, the high profits made by adoption facilitators and the bitter relations between figures involved with adoption in Cambodia.

Galindo's defense conceded that corrupt payments were made, but asserted that it was common practice and pointed the finger at others, including Hendrie, for engaging in identical practices.

Hendrie said no TSF project was connected to adoption. "If adoption ever reopens in Cambodia, I do not want anything to do with it," she wrote.

She also wrote that her statements about Galindo "relate to my disgust with the millions of dollars she brought in for her own personal use, and how she preached kindly acts while establishing off-shore accounts, buying pearls with adoption money, and almost never doing ANYTHING for 'her' orphanages where minimal standards of water, food, housing, hygiene, and medical care were often not met."

Court documents also pointed to a range of payments made through intermediaries to low level government officials in order to facilitate adoptions.

Ouch Syphalla Pole (known as Mr Pol), Galindo's driver, was identified in the defense submission as a man in whom Galindo placed her "entire unquestioned trust" from 1997 onwards. Galindo, the defense attorney said, gave $3,500 to Mr Pol to "obtain necessary paperwork from the Ministries".

However, Pol denied the allegation when contacted by the Post, saying he was simply her driver, and that she had dealt with all government officials directly. The defense argued that Galindo was naïve about some of the practices of her associates and that charitable works mitigated her crimes.

But according to the pro-secution's submission, "two of Galindo's associates in Cambodia who located children for adoption told investigators that Galindo knew that payments were being made to birth mothers to induce them to give up their child for adoption."

US District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly concluded that Galindo's "charitable work made it possible to commit the crimes."

Galindo pleaded guilty to visa fraud and money laundering in July. She has been sentenced to serve 18 months in prison, three years of supervised release, 300 hours of community service and pay more than $60,000 dollars in restitution to several former clients.

The judge also ordered her to forfeit the proceeds of her crimes to the US government in the form of her $1.4 million home in the US state of Hawaii and money to the value of her Jaguar.

A November 19 press release from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement described Galindo's matching of Cambodian children with US parents as a "conspiracy [that] involved alien smuggling, visa fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, money laundering, and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act."

"From January 1997 to December 2001, the conspirators operated a scheme to defraud U.S. citizens who adopted some 700 children from Cambodia," according to the release.

"They received approximately $8 million dollars from adoptive parents in the United States, and then lived lavish lifestyles in Seattle, Hawaii, and Cambodia," it goes on to say.

2004 Dec 3