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Tontine leader faces fraud charges

The fraud trial of the alleged leader of a tontine – a complicated lending scheme in which members gamble for contributions to a communal fund – began yesterday at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

But defendant Ream Darin’s husband, Yim Savuth, has counter-accused Chan Sophal, a disgraced former adviser to the Supreme Patriarch of Cambodia’s monkhood, Tep Vong, of framing her by coercing witnesses to falsely testify against her.

The couple maintain that Sophal misused his power to push court officials into falsely arresting and charging her in June because they refused to give him a loan of $10,500, and Darin yesterday reiterated in court that she was innocent.

“I am the leader in this tontine group and a member in other groups,” she said. “I also lost $100,000, and I do not think that I have committed fraud.”

Ten members of Darin’s tontine have filed a joint complaint against her, alleging she defrauded them of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Darin said yesterday the payout cycle of the tontine had been scheduled for the end of 2012, but the failure of some members to pay their contributions the previous year had delayed the process.

Plaintiff Kong Menghong said he had lost $155,093 from the tontine.

“I want the court to punish the defendant and ask her to compensate my losses,” Menghong told the court yesterday.

“I gained neither the capital nor the interest [from the tontine], so this is fraud,” another plantiff, Lam Seanghai, said. He demanded that Darin pay him back the $81,016 he lost.

Prosecutor Seu Vanny called for Darin to compensate her alleged victims and for the court to punish her.

The legality of tontine in Cambodia is ambiguous, as gambling is technically illegal for Khmer nationals.

But the game is widely accepted across the country, functioning almost as a sort of private social equity fund.



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