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‘General’ in court

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Chhoeun Chanthan, the former chief of Senate president Chea Sim’s bodyguard unit, embezzled almost $1.5 million from government departments after using a dead man’s identity to become a high-ranking commander, a military tribunal heard yesterday.

  Mai Vireak/Phnom Penh Post
Chhoeun Chanthan, a former lieutenant-general and chief of Senate president Chea Sim’s bodyguard unit, appears before a military court in Phnom Penh yesterday.

The explosive allegations came on the first day of the sacked lieutenant-general’s hearing – and just a day after his lawyer, Put Theavy, told the Post he could not specifically recall the charges his client faced.

A civil court will deliver its verdict today on separate charges against the former deputy commander of the Mixed Chief of Staff at the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces that relate to forging documents and illegally possessing firearms and ammunition.

Poak Porn, appointed leader of the case’s three judges, said Chhoeun Chanthan was charged with breaching trust; intentionally destroying and embezzling state property; illegally distributing weapons; destroying military materials; and lacking consciousness and responsibility when leading and managing a unit.  

“Chhoeun Chanthan had no background in military work with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces,” Poak Porn said.

“He faked his personal resume by using the name and identity card of Lieutenant-Colonel Sun Gou, who died in 1997, to become a high-ranking-commander of RCAF and Samdech Chea Sim’s bodyguard commander.

“He also used his military position and his influence as Samdech Chea Sim’s bodyguard commander to further his own businesses.”

Prosecutor Mak Seiha said that in 2007, Chhoeun Chanthan, the eponymous president of an import and export company, embezzled US$494,750 from the Ministry of National Defence, money that was supposed to be used to construct a government building.

In 2010, Chhoeun Chanthan received US$1 million from Chea Sim to build a history museum on 20 hectares of land in Krabao commune, in Prey Veng province, Mak Seiha said.

According to Mak Seiha, however, only 15 hectares had been used and the project remained unfinished, resulting in Chhoeun Chanthan owing more than $180,000 to builder Chea Kimheng.

The prosecution also accused Chhoeun Chanthan of not paying for government land he acquired.

“He promised to pay US$2 million to the government to buy land at Samdech Chea Sim’s bodyguard headquarters in Phnom Penh and separate land in Kandal province. But he did not pay for it,” Mak Seiha said.

“He also distributed 73 new pistols to people who were not competent and sold four large military trucks without authorisation.

“All his activities clearly show that Chhoeun Chanthan has been dishonest in exploiting the state’s money and property. His activities have seriously affected the honour of the RCAF,” Mak Seiha said.

Chhoeun Chanthan denied the allegations; however, he admitted owing money to the Ministry of National Defence.

“I did not distribute the guns or destroy military materials, nor have I embezzled state money or property,” he said.

“What I did for Chea Sim’s Bodyguard Unit was to protect Chea Sim and other leaders.”

Relating to the construction of the history museum, Chhoeun Chanthan said he had received $1 million from Chea Sim.

“This money was used to pay for construction, but I was not aware that they were building on only 15 hectares,” he said.

He also denied not paying for land obtained from the government, saying he had given $1 million to Tea Sut at the Cambodian Peoples’ Party.

“I agreed to buy these two plots of land at a price of $2 million from Chea Sim. But because of the global economic crisis in 2008, I asked him to reduce the price, and he did. So I have paid already,” he said.

“I have not committed the crimes.”

The verdict will be handed down on February 24.

Chhoeun Chanthan was arrested on August 13, along with three bodyguards in the capital’s Chamkarmorn district.

Police seized ammunition and rifles including an AK-47, a machine gun and more than 1,400 bullets.

On  February 3, Chhoeun Chanthan appeared in Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged with possessing weapons and ammunitions without permission; issuing licenses to use weapons and ammunitions to persons who are not competent; and faking public documents.

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