Chhoeun Chanthan (C), the former head of Senate president Chea Sim’s bodyguard unit, appears at the Appeal Court, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post
Convicted to 36 years in prison earlier this year on a raft of counts related to breach of trust and theft of state property, Lieutenant General Chhoeun Chanthan, former chief of Senate president Chea Sim’s bodyguard unit, yesterday took his case to the Court of Appeal.
The hearing, which covered both his civilian and military court convictions, lasted just two hours. The one-time adviser to Chea Sim stands convicted of having netted millions through the sale of military vehicles and weapons, and by orchestrating a series of land swaps intentionally set up to fail.
In February Chanthan was found guilty on four counts of forgery and illegal weapons possession by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Less than a week later the Military Court sentenced him to 26 years on five counts – including embezzlement and the illegal sale of military property – and ordered him to repay more than $3.5 million owed to Chea Sim and other plaintiffs.
As he has done since his August 2011 arrest, when officials seized massive amounts of firearms and ammo from his Phnom Penh home, Chanthan yesterday denied all the accusations against him.
“I did not distribute the guns or destroy the military materials, and I have not embezzled the state’s money or properties as accused,” he told Judge Seng Sivutha.
“What I had done for Samdech Chea Sim’s Bodyguard Unit was to protect Samdech Chea Sim and other leaders.”
Repeating an argument made at the lower court level, Chanthan admitted he owed money for one Defence Ministry construction project that failed after the company went bankrupt and was unable to complete the job. But he insisted no embezzlement had been committed and he and his lawyers sought to have the charges dropped.
Lawyers for the prosecution and Chea Sim’s current bodyguard, Lieutenant General Yim Leang, who is the plaintiff in the case, urged that the verdict stand. A lawyer for Union Commercial Bank, meanwhile, came forward yesterday and called on the court to order Chanthan to pay back a $2 million loan, plus interest, which the bank extended to him in 2010. A verdict is due on January 16.
Chanthan’s August arrest was followed a month later by the arrests of four members of Chea Sim’s inner circle on accusations of having tricked the CPP president into signing millions of dollars in fake contracts.
All were eventually convicted, and the sweep raised eyebrows among political observers who questioned why those closest to Chea Sim appeared to be under fire.
To contact the reporter on this story: Buth Reaksmey Kongkea at firstname.lastname@example.org