Controversial Ambassador to South Korea Suth Dina was charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday for unlawful exploitation and abuse of power, after an Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) investigation found him in possession of 12.7 kilograms of gold and $7.2 million cash.
Dina’s defence lawyer, Hok Phalla, said the investigating judge had sent his client to pre-trial detention, adding that Dina told the judge that he was being wrongfully charged and only made “small administrative mistakes”, due to his diplomatic inexperience.
“He has limited experience in controlling general and administration work, especially accounting,” Phalla said. “He is still young and fresh for a diplomat.”
Dina has been charged with abuse of power under Article 35 of the Anti-Corruption Law and articles 597 and 598 of the Criminal Code for unlawful exploitation.
He was taken in for questioning by the ACU on Monday and remained in custody ever since.
At a press conference earlier in the day, ACU President Om Yentieng highlighted the extent of Dina’s infractions and the massive amounts of wealth he had allegedly amassed.
The investigation revealed that Dina was in possession of $7.2 million in cash, $3 million more than the $4.2 million he had in 2013, 339 damlungs of gold, or 12.7 kilograms, as well as 500 gems, 10 huge plots of land, and two villas, though the location of the last two were unspecified.
Yentieng added that Dina had two “unofficial staff”, Chap Meadey and close aide Son Mon Yong, who were running the embassy’s administration, bypassing Cambodian embassy staff.
“She [Maradey] did all the jobs in the embassy,” Yentieng said. “When she got money, she handed it to Suth Dina directly.
“His close man was Mon Yong, who was Korean and also in charge of everything, including paperwork for Cambodian women marrying Korean men,” he added.
Yentieng said Dina had misappropriated funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, using part of the monthly $20,000 given to the embassy to pay Meadey and Mon Yong, as well as failing to deposit nearly $12,000 in visa fees to state coffers despite multiple reminders.
Following complaints from workers in South Korea, the ACU found that Dina was directing compensation meant for the families of dead workers into an undisclosed account, an accusation, Yentieng said, to which Dina had confessed. “I just want to say that he is not poor,” Yentieng said.
On hearing the charges against her son, Suth Dina’s mother, Yam Chheav Eng, yesterday continued to maintain his innocence and guaranteed that Dina did not possess the large sums of money attributed to him by the ACU.
“Before he went there [South Korea] he did land trading, so he has some [money],” she said. “But $7 million and a dozen kilograms of gold – it is ridiculous.”
Driving home her point, she said Dina would always borrow money from friends when he visited Cambodia, and currently could not even pay for his ailing father’s medical treatment in South Korea. She urged Prime Minister Hun Sen to “find justice for her son”.
Yi Sinorn, president of an opposition CNRP-aligned youth group in South Korea, said he was aware of the two people who allegedly assisted Dina, adding that the “Korean man” had worked at the embassy before Dina took over as envoy.
“The Korean man has been in the embassy since the previous ambassador and has many complaints against him about corruption in Korea,” Sinorn said.
He added that Dina alleged that the Cambodian government was looking to bring him down, as they suspected he would defect during the 2018 national elections.
Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda and Pech Sotheary