The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday handed Suth Dina, the former Cambodian ambassador to South Korea, a five-year prison sentence and a fine of almost $2,500 for “abuse of power” and “unlawful exploitation” committed during his stint in Seoul from 2014 to 2016.
The brief hearing, however, made no mention of vast sums of money, gold and gems that Dina was accused of possessing after his arrest by the Anti-Corruption Unit, which began investigating the 45-year-old in March – and the disgraced diplomat noted the exclusion as he vowed to appeal.
Judge Koa Vandy convicted Dina under Article 35 of the corruption law, which concerns abuse of power, and Criminal Code articles 597 and 598, which deal with unlawful exploitation, and the judge said the acts had occurred at the embassy. Vandy said the court would keep documents and plane tickets seized from Dina, but return four mobile phones, an iPad and cash in riel, US dollars and South Korean won.
Dina’s attorney, Hok Phalla, rejected the verdict and sentence, saying his client had sought permission for all his decisions and appointments in Seoul with his superiors. “There was no serious point proving there was a serious abuse of power, as I studied the case and all documents,” Phalla said. “He worked based on the administration norms.”
Dina, a former anti-government student activist and politician who defected to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in 2009, came under investigation soon after drawing criticism for his hardline rhetoric against opposition supporters in South Korea, who he threatened to deport.
He also drew rebukes for alluding to work he said he had carried out with South Korean authorities to track illegal migrants and political dissidents, an operation Korean officials said they had never heard of.
At the time of his repatriation and arrest, ACU President Om Yentieng said the probe into Dina was sparked by complaints by Foreign Ministry staffers and migrant workers. During the investigation, it was claimed Dina had hired unofficial staffers and misappropriated state funds.
However, the most extraordinary allegation concerned wealth purportedly hoarded by Dina, with Yentieng saying the envoy was in possession of $7.2 million in cash, 12.7 kilograms of gold, 10 large plots of land and 500 gems.
Since the allegation, officials have provided no further information about the massive wealth, which Dina’s family denied he possessed. Speaking with reporters briefly after his guilty verdict, Dina yesterday vowed to appeal and appeared to question the evidentiary basis for the verdict against him.
“As noted in court, was anything seized?” he asked. Dina’s family declined to comment to reporters on the verdict, but his wife, Sokun Mealea, called the verdict “unacceptable” after it was read aloud. Phalla, Dina’s attorney, said
that the prosecutors, lacking evidence, had not brought charges over the alleged cash and jewellery stash.
Yentieng, the ACU chief, was unreachable.