Less than 24 hours after controversial ambassador to South Korea Suth Dina was charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday for unlawful exploitation and abuse of power, Prime Minister Hun Sen sent a letter to King Norodom Sihamoni picking Dina’s successor – Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche.
The appointment, made official by a royal decree on Saturday, will see the City Hall official take over as South Korean ambassador, following revelations by the ACU last week that Dina was in possession of $7.2 million, 12.7 kilograms of gold, 10 large plots of land and 500 gems, and had allegedly misappropriated state funds.
Dimanche said yesterday that while he was excited for his new assignment, he was also a little anxious at the challenge that lay ahead.
“I am also concerned because this is new for me,” he said. “I will use my [City Hall and educational] experience to make my work successful and take this achievement for the country.”
Dimanche, the 36-year-old son of Long Visalo, secretary of state at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, told the Post in November that he had held ambitions of being a diplomat, much like his father who was Cambodia’s ambassador to Cuba in the 1980s.
However, after completing his master’s degree in international affairs in France, his father introduced him to the former governor of Phnom Penh, Kep Chuktema, in 2004, starting his ascension as the governor’s assistant to the public face of the Phnom Penh Municipality.
It was Dimanche’s “strong background” in international affairs and “appropriate attitude” that led to his selection as Cambodia’s envoy to South Korea, said Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry.
Dismissing any claims of nepotism, Sounry said Visalo, an influential ministry official, was unaware of his son’s prospective selection, instead saying Dimanche’s appointment was merit-based.
“He has two appropriate qualifications – his master’s in international relations and when he worked at City Hall, he had some experience communicating with foreigners and foreign stakeholders,” Sounry added.
Following Suth Dina’s detention last Thursday, Cambodian People’s Party social media activist and soldier Khan Chan Sophal posted on Facebook that he had loaned Dina $5,000 during Chinese New Year in February, adding that Dina’s wife had again approached him to borrow more money following his arrest.
ACU President Om Yentieng during a press conference on Thursday said that Dina was far from poor and that the ACU would check claims of Dina paying people to spread the message that he was not as wealthy as claimed by the investigative body’s charges.
Sophal, who was worried about coming up on the ACU’s radar, said in an interview yesterday he was only “speaking the truth” about Dina, and questioned claims that Dina had amassed huge amounts of money given that the former ambassador had never showed any signs of wealth.
“It is unbelievable for me because [if he had money] why would the ambassador act poor?” he said, adding that he did not want to be involved with the issue anymore.