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Official pleads guilty to fraud

A former Ministry of Economy and Finance official pleaded guilty to charges of forgery and embezzlement during a hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday, claiming he had stolen more than US$600,000 of state money to fund a gambling addiction.

Koy Dara, who had been acting bureau director of finance at the ministry for nearly 20 years before his arrest on April 24, said yesterday that he had altered numerous checks and twice forged the signature of one of his superiors to misappropriate money from a state account between early 2009 and 2010.

“I acknowledge and confess my guilt for embezzling state funds, which I did alone with my skillful extending of numbers and correcting numbers on checks,” he said.

“I embezzled state funds ... took this money and lost it gambling at Naga casino for my addiction, [I did] not take the money for supplying my family or other interests.”

According to a statement read out by a court clerk yesterday, Mey Vann, director of the ministry’s Financial Department, testified that an investigation was launched when he realised money had been siphoned out of a state bank account.

“I was very surprised after checking documents from the National Bank of Cambodia [that] alerted that the account had almost run out through [Koy Dara] forging my signature and adding extra numbers on checks every time he got money from the bank,” Mey Vann’s statement read.

“I trusted in him as my personal assistant and secretariat.”

Court prosecutor Ek Chheng Huot, however, questioned whether Koy Dara could have acted alone in siphoning such a large amount of money without the knowledge of his superiors.

He cast doubt on claims that Koy Dara’s “boss Mey Vann and other accountants didn’t know about the accused’s embezzling from checks at the National bank that happened for more than a year”.

Despite these doubts, Ek Chheng Hout called for Koy Dara to receive a “heavy sentence” to set a “good example for other civil officials to be careful and responsible”.

Under Article 49 of UNTAC law, 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.

Presiding Judge Ker Sakhorn said a verdict will be announced on December 16.

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