The Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) has arrested Lay Samnang, former deputy director of the Finance and Supply Department under the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, for allegedly embezzling nearly $390,000 of state funds.

The ACU said the suspect was arrested on January 10 and sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on January 11, following more than a year of investigation.

Samnang, 52, was referred to court in connection with two criminal cases. The first involves illegal exploitation and the second involves money laundering, said a January 11 ACU press release.

“We conducted investigations for almost 13 months and suspect that the accused embezzled and laundered about $388,000 from 11 ministry projects – four in 2019 and seven in 2020,” it said.

The ACU confirmed that during a period of financial instability at the ministry, the National Bank’s Treasury Department had summoned Samnang for questioning. It appeared he had continued to repeat his offence.

Ministry officials also conducted an investigation, and on December 29, 2020, Samnang confessed to his wrongdoing. He signed a contract agreeing to repay the funds stolen from the seven projects. In October 2021, the ministry made the decision to send the case to court. The ACU became involved, and launched their investigation in March last year.

Touch Channy, ministry spokesman and director-general for technical affairs, said Samnang’s failure to make repayments had led to the case being sent to court.

“He spoke with lawyers from the ministry and offered a series of explanations. Initially, we were wary of sending the case to court, but after he failed to repay the funds, we were left with no choice,” he added.

Channy explained that Samnang has been suspended from his position since May 2021.

Pech Pisey, executive director of Transparency International (TI) Cambodia, said the investigation – and the subsequent arrest of the suspect – was a positive step in the implementation of Cambodia’s anti-corruption laws. He and several other civil society organisations offered their strong support for the action.

“Due to the large sums involved, I believe there should be an independent investigation to determine whether any other officials were involved, to ensure that the laws are applied fairly and equally.

“Embezzling funds from the social affairs ministry is not only illegal, it is immoral. For a state official to exploit aid that was destined for the most vulnerable members of society is sickening,” he said.

Neither the suspect’s lawyer nor family members could be reached for comment.

During his career within the state framework, Samnang served as director of the Ba Phnom District Development Office under the Prey Veng provincial Rural Development Department from 1993 to 2022. From 2002 to 2007, he also served as coordinator of the Prey Veng sub-national reform programme.

From 2012 to 2013, he was an official with the finance and supply department, before being made deputy director in 2014, a post he held until his suspension.

Plang Sophal, spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, told The Post that the prosecutor is working on the case.

“He will investigate charges of illegal exploitation under Articles 597 and 598 of the Criminal Code; money laundering under Article 32 and 38 of the anti-corruption law; and Article 32 of the money laundering law,” he said.