Senate President Chea Sim’s four former advisers and a Malaysian businessman embroiled in a fraud scandal worth hundreds of millions of dollars were sentenced to jail terms of between three and four years and fined a mere 9,000 riel (about US$2.75) yesterday.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted the five for defrauding at least 51 foreign companies in scams that date back almost a decade and total hundreds of millions of dollars including one project in Svay Rieng province, which alone was worth US$90 million.
“These allegations are of serious fraudulence,” Judge Te Sam Ang said, listing the sentences against the five accused.
Chea Sim’s former Protocol Chief Pheng Kunthea Borey, the alleged mastermind behind the scams, was the only charged person present yesterday and openly wept throughout the verdict announcement.
Her colleagues Ponlock Ho, Chan Kosal and Khieu Bora remained in their holding cells in the detention centre.
The Malaysian businessman, Joe Harry Mahady, also known as “Dino”, remains a fugitive. Ponlock Ho, formerly one of Chea Sim’s inner circle, was fined an additional two million riel (about US$500) to be placed in the state budget for impersonating a three-star national police general, Judge Te Sam Ang said.
Chea Sim’s high-profile lawyer, Nach Try, told the Post yesterday that he had not yet seen the verdict, but he had requested the court only fine each of the accused 9,000 riel.
Throughout the trial and during the verdict, no mention has been made of where the alleged fraudulently obtained funds are or how the money should be returned to the companies it was extorted from.
None of the 51 foreign companies prosecutors have said were defrauded have made public statements or demanded their money back.
Each of the five convicted have maintained a plea of innocence throughout the proceedings.
“All convicted people who have not accepted their verdicts, have the right to appeal to the Court of Appeal according to the law,” Te Sam Ang said.
Through her tears, the once elite socialite Pheng Kunthea Borey told the Post inside the courtroom that she could not accept the court’s verdict against her.
“I completely deny it, because I was not involved in these fake documents or committed the offences as accused,” she said.
Despite what she claims are false allegations against her, Pheng Kunthea Borey yesterday was again quick to protect the reputation of her high-ranking former boss and other ruling Cambodian People’s Party leaders.
“I would like to say that my stance toward the Cambodian People’s Party is the same,” she said. “Do not regard this as a political issue – it is an issue between individual and individual.”
Some opposition observers believe the case is really a political purge of disloyal factions within the CPP.
Muong Sokun, a lawyer for Pheng Kunthea Borey, said he would discuss lodging an appeal with his client soon.
Ponlock Ho’s defence lawyer, Thong Chan Rithy, also said he could not accept the court’s verdict for his client.
“It is very unjust to my client because there is no evidence to press a serious sentence on him, so I will file an appeal,” he said.
The defence lawyer for the other two former advisors who were convicted said the court had produced no real proof or evidence showing his clients had committed any crimes and said it was “likely” his
clients would appeal.
The Malaysian businessman known as “Dino” appeared to have fled the country in September and has been tried and sentenced in absentia. All four Cambodians claim he duped them and they had not knowingly been involved in any scams or defrauded any companies of their own volition.