The Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged former governor of Kep town Kheng Yon with abuse of power and money laundering, subsequently placing him in pre-trial detention. 

Yon was dismissed from his role by Prime Minister Hun Manet via a sub-decree late last week. 

The action followed an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), which found irregularities in Yon’s performance of his duties.

“The prosecutor has decided to launch an investigation into Yon for abuse of power under Article 35 of anti-corruption law, and money laundering under Articles 3 and 38, based on the law on anti-money laundering and terrorism financing,” Phlang Sophal, spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office, stated on January 13.

Following his arrest on January 11, Yon was brought before the court for embezzling state and public interests for his personal gain, as per the ACU.

Manet removed him from office on January 12, emphasising that the decision was in line with the final point of his five-point slogan: “Look in the mirror, take a bath, clean the body, get treatment and undergo surgery”.

ACU spokesperson Soy Chanvichet confirmed that Yon was placed in pre-trial detention on January 14. 

He refrained from elaborating on the specifics of the case leading to the arrest but noted that it followed months of investigation. 

“The ACU spent several months investigating his case before we decided to question him and forward the case to the court. I prefer not to go into details; it took a significant amount of time to build the case against him,” he said.

He further added that the unit performs its duties in accordance with the law and procedures, representing the administration’s stance against corruption and its commitment to promoting good governance.

Chin Malin, spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, noted that the case demonstrates the equal application of legal enforcement to everyone, regardless of whether they are government officials or ordinary citizens, as long as they are implicated in crimes.

As the government strives to eliminate corruption to gain public trust and boost investor confidence, Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, noted that such actions might tarnish the country’s image as they can influence investors’ sentiments.

Pech Pisey, director of Transparency International (TI) Cambodia, supported the government’s approach of employing “surgery” against unethical officeholders. 

“To effectively eliminate corrupt officials, it’s vital to enforce the law against any officials who exhibit irregularities in their duties, including those who accept bribes. Such actions can jeopardise public and state interests, as well as impact investors’ sentiments,” he stated.

Pisey underscored the importance of applying the law equitably, regardless of whether the individuals involved are ordinary citizens or powerful officials.