A high-ranking provincial official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Battambang was arrested and charged by the provincial court yesterday with breach of trust after allegedly pilfering 800 million riel, about $200,000, in state funds last year, senior police officials said.
The official is accused of pocketing money raised from the sale of 500 tonnes of farming fertiliser donated by the Japanese government, meant to be sold to farmers at low prices, with the revenue returning to state coffers.
Lieutenant Colonel Mean Lay, chief of the provincial penal crime office in Battambang, said yesterday that Seng Ratnak, 39, a deputy director at the office of legislation at the provincial agricultural ministry, is now awaiting trial at the provincial prison.
“He received fertiliser from the Ministry of Agriculture, which was purchased using generous Japanese donations given to Cambodia.… He has sold the fertiliser [to farmers] for a total of [one billion riel],” he said.
“[However] he only transferred 200 million riel to the ministry but kept 800 million riel for his own use. He was arrested based on the Ministry of Agriculture’s complaint.”
During police questioning, Ratnak is said to have confessed to keeping 700 million riel, which he promised would be returned to the ministry.
According to the penal code, if found guilty he faces up to five years in prison, along with a fine of up to 10 million riel.
Yukiko Kitazawa, head of public relations at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), confirmed yesterday that her office was aware of the case.
“We, the JICA Cambodia office, have inquired the Ministry of Agriculture about this matter and confirmed the fact,” Yukiko said in an email.
“We will work with [the government] and our higher authority to grasp the detailed situation and take necessary steps to prevent any misconduct from happening.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH