Cambodia’s ambassador to South Korea is facing corruption charges as investigators there say his wealth increased by about $3 million during the two years he spent as envoy to Seoul, RFA’s Khmer Service has learned.
Anti-Corruption Unit officials say that they have evidence showing Suth Dina’s total cash assets rose to about $7.2 million from $4.2 million during his time in South Korea. ACU investigators also said Suth Dina possessed 13 kilograms of gold.
When arriving at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court from Prey Sar Prison Suth Dina shouted: “Injustice for me!”
ACU chief Om Yentieng, accused Suth Dina of embezzling $180,000 from the embassy in Seoul. The source of his other assets was unclear, but they could be seized they were illegally gained.
It is also unclear exactly how many charges the government will bring against Suth Dina, but he is facing at least one charge of “effective abuse of power” and one charge of taking advantage of his office for personal gain.
In particular, the government accused Suth Din of running a scam where he sold visa stickers in South Korea and then kept the $120,000 he earned for a long period of time before depositing it in Cambodia’s bank account.
He is also accused of opening an account at a South Korean bank and secretly transferring large amounts of Korean won into Cambodia. At the same time authorities say he embezzled insurance money from Cambodian workers in Korea.
Suth Dina is facing up to 10 years in prison, if he is convicted of the two charges.
What to do with $3 million
“For the $3 million dollars, if he can answer for it, then we will not confiscate it,” Om Yentieng told reporters on Thursday. “After this, we will question him at the Prey Sar Prison, so the next step for questioning over there, is to see if he can explain where he got the $3 million.”
He added: “If he won’t answer, then we seize $3 million first.”
For a time, Suth Dina was being held for a time in Prey Sar Prison’s Room Number 15 in Building B, next door to Meach Sovannara, the media director of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, who was sentenced for participating in and directing an insurrectionary movement, sources tell RFA.
Cambodia has a reputation as one of Asia's most corrupt countries. The problem is a political liability for long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose Cambodian People's Party fended off an unexpectedly strong challenge in the 2013 general election.
Corruption issues are also expected to play a role in the upcoming Cambodian elections as well, and it’s unclear if Hun Sen is trying to send a signal before the election, said Ou Virak, president of the Phnom Penh-based think tank Future Forum.
“We should remember that Suth Dina is not popular in South Korea,” Ou Virak said during an RFA call-in show. “I guess that there may be corruption activities because there are many poor workers and families who have to save up or borrow extra money to make it possible to work there, and that includes paying bribes to enable them to send their daughters and sons to Korea in order to get a job there where wages are higher.”
While Hun Sen may hope that the arrest sends a signal that the government is serious about stamping out corruption, it is unclear how far it will go because corruption is endemic in Cambodian society, Ou Virak said.
“If we talk about corruption, many officials may be involved in corruption activities,” he said, “About 80 to 90% of the Cambodian people can see corruption activities, according to the Transparency International Cambodia,”
“That’s why I said there nothing to be surprised about in terms of corruption, or to think if it is true,” he said.
Reported by Moniroth Morm, Maly Leng, Sothearin Yeang for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.