PHNOM Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday heard the embezzlement case of a former executive for South East Asia Radio and TV, with the lawyer for the plaintiff demanding full repayment of US$7 million the executive allegedly stole from Japanese investors, as well as $500,000 in compensation.
Sem Sovandeth, who has been held in pretrial detention since October, did not attend the hearing, and presiding judge Oeung Sieng told the court that he had cited health reasons for his absence.
The complaint against Sem Sovandeth was filed last October after his former business partner, SEA TV director general Kao Kimhuon, told police he had discovered
“irregularities” in his colleague’s accounting practices.
Kao Kimhoun’s lawyer, Ing Kerya, told the court on Tuesday that Sem Sovandeth had deliberately misused money from the station’s Japanese backers.
“Sem Sovandeth used the money in the wrong way. He only bought low-quality equipment, and his bad intention was to keep [the remaining] money in his pocket,” Ing Kerya said.
He then lined up 20 SEA TV staff members to give statements accusing Sem Sovandeth of skimming from their salaries and misappropriating funds.
Yim Cheat Vannak, deputy chief of SEA TV’s technical department, told the court Tuesday that, in one instance, Sem Sovandeth embezzled about $1.3 million by citing false equipment prices.
“He requested $1.5 million to buy lights for the studio, but I found out that the equipment only cost $200,000,” he told the court.
Other witnesses told the court that Sem Sovandeth had lied to them about how much they were supposed to earn, and that he presumably pocketed the remaining cash.
But Sem Sovandeth’s lawyer, Vong Peakdey, said he did not believe the investigation that led to his client’s arrest had been thorough, and said he doubted that one person could be responsible for such large-scale fraud.
“I want the court to create an independent body to audit all incomes and expenses of the TV [station] so that the court can provide justice to my client,” he said.
Oeung Sieng told the court that a verdict in the case would be handed down on May 18.