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'Scammers' speak out

The woman alleged to be at the heart of a scam involving “many hundreds of millions of dollars” and employees of Senate President Chea Sim walked from court crying yesterday as more details emerged about the scandal.

Unlike her fellow suspects, Chea Sim’s former protocol chief Pheng Kunthea Borey refused to speak to reporters outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday after being questioned over fraud and forgery charges.

Along with Chea Sim’s former advisers Chan Kosal and Ponlork Ho, former cabinet member Khieu Bora and former Bodyguard Unit chief Chhoeun Chanthan, she is accused of scamming foreign companies into entering fake contracts for development projects and earning commissions from the deals. All suspects have denied the charges.

Despite her silence, many of her alleged co-conspirators took the opportunity to speak out following five hours of questioning.

Khieu Bora said outside the court he was “suffering” and “disappointed by my life” as he had been charged without committing any offence.

“I would like to ask Samdech Chea Sim to appear and publicly explain to me about this case. I would also like to appeal to the top leaders of Cambodia as well as the court to find justice for me,” he said.

Ponlork Ho also protested his innocence outside the court, claiming he had not made any money from four Vietnamese  construction projects worth US$90 million in Svay Rieng province’s Romeas Haek district that have been connected to the scam.

Chan Kosal admitted to reporters that he had received documents from a foreigner acting on behalf of Malaysian company Fasfik for a US$120 million contract – now believed to be fake – to build a vocational training centre that was signed by Chea Sim.

But he claimed he had done nothing more than pass the documents from the foreign businessman, known as “Mr Deano”, who is also wanted by police in connection with the scam, to Khieu Bora, who passed them to Pheng Kunthea Borey.  Deano, he alleged, was the owner of a humanitarian fund called Malaysian-C4C.

Lawyer Suy Chhun Hak – who was hired by Pheng Kunthea Borey as legal counsel after her previous representative, Kouy Thunna, abruptly resigned yesterday – said his client was the victim of false accusations.

“My client said she was not aware about the fake documents,” he said. “She had never received a cent from Samdech Chea Sim’s projects.”

The complaint that sparked the investigation was made by Chea Sim and approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Yim Leang, the new chief of Chea Sim’s bodyguard unit, who has been tasked with
investigating the scam.

He said suspects had gleaned money from fake or misleading contracts with firms from countries such as China, Vietnam, Malaysia and South Korea.

“They were linked with forgeries and frauds from at least 51 foreign companies  … with  many hundreds of millions of dollars via projects [to create] schools, roads, hospitals, constructions and  humanitarian services [involved].”

Investigating judge Chaing Sinath said the suspects had been interviewed face to face.

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