Koy Dara (left), acting bureau director of finance at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, arrives at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday where he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Photo by: Sreng Meng Srun
A FORMER official of the Ministry of Economy and Finance was sentenced to 10 years in prison yesterday, two weeks after he pleaded guilty to forging public documents and embezzling more than US$600,000 to fund a gambling addiction.
Presiding Judge Ker Sakhorn also ordered Koy Dara – former acting bureau director of finance at the Ministry for nearly 20 years – to pay back the embezzled money in full.
“I have no comment over the court’s conviction, although we won the case,” said Theng Meng Y, who represented the Ministry of Finance.
Uk Siroeun, Koy Dara’s defence lawyer, said he would appeal the sentence, because his client confessed his guilt from the outset.
“We will appeal the conviction at the Appeal Court with the hope that the sentence might be slashed down the minimum,” said Uk Siroeun, adding that his client’s civilian service deserved consideration.
Under Article 49 of the UNTAC criminal code, a conviction on charges of forging public documents is punishable by five to 15 years in prison. Under Article 37 of the law, embezzlement by public officials is a felony punishable by three to 10 years in prison and a fine of double the sum of money stolen.
Koy Dara was arrested and charged in April by the Ministry of Interior’s internal security police, following suspicion that he had embezzled state funds between early 2009 and the time of his arrest. Two weeks ago he admitted to altering cheques and forging documents, as well as losing the money at Nagaworld casino.
Koy Dara’s conviction comes amid a concerted government campaign to eradicate graft, which included the passage of the long-awaited Law on Anticorruption in March.
The Anticorruption Unit – which did not handle Koy Dara’s case – approved a policy last month requiring around 100,000 government and military officials to disclose their assets. Last week, government officials, lawyers and police attended an anticorruption conference on the declaration of assets.
The ACU has also arrested and charged a Pursat provincial prosecutor and two bodyguards with corruption, extortion, and false imprisonment.
ACU head Om Yentieng has said that the agency is pursuing investigations of corruption at the Battambang provincial court and the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh, though he has not yet provided details of the investigations.
Hang Chhaya, executive director for the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said that the government’s anti-graft push was welcome but should be implemented in a more measured way.
“I think from the experience of other countries, one would like to see a proper process – how you empower people, educate the judges and the legal offense teams and prosecutors,” said Hang Chhaya.
“Otherwise, down the line a few years later, the same problems will just re-emerge.”