Cambodia's controversial ambassador to South Korea, Suth Dina, was questioned yesterday by the Anti-Corruption Unit following a probe into his spending and complaints by Foreign Ministry staff and Cambodian migrant workers, according to ACU president Om Yentieng.
Speaking yesterday morning, Yentieng said it was likely Dina, who was taken from the Foreign Ministry at 8am for questioning at the ACU, would be detained. Though the ACU president was unreachable last night, local media reported Dina had been held by the unit.
Yentieng said the body had received multiple complaints against the ambassador, who earlier this month revealed he was under investigation in a Facebook post which claimed the probe was a “setup”.
“First, we have received a lot of complaints from workers; and secondly, from officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs both in Phnom Penh and in Seoul have filed complaints too. Thirdly, we have seen complaints on Facebook,” Yentieng said.
Yentieng also revealed the Ministry of Economy and Finance had audited Dina’s spending and issued two reports, while ACU investigators had also visited South Korea to pursue the complaints.
“We have sent our six officials to South Korea, including Seoul and five provinces … to meet complainants, witnesses and victims and we also interviewed His Excellency Suth Dina once before in Seoul. This is the second time we are hearing his answers.”
Saying the investigation would not take long, Yentieng estimated that there was a 90 per cent probability that the complaints against the ambassador merited investigation.
“Therefore we invited him,” Yentieng said. “This is the procedure.”
“After having announced whether to detain him, we have 48 hours to make a report and send it to the court,” Yentieng said.
Speaking anonymously, a source with knowledge of affairs at the embassy alleged Dina’s tenure was marred by irregularities.
The source also claimed the ambassador employed his family members to do official work, for which he was censured in 2014 by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, according to media reports.
“There were some irregularities,” the source said. “The ACU has enough evidence . . . His arrest is a huge reform and people who live and work in Korea are happy to hear about this.”
“[The embassy provided] poor service and [Dina] threatened to arrest workers . . . He sometimes spent between $700 to $800 on dinner and a drove a car worth $70,000 . . . Where did the money come from?”
Dina, posted to Seoul in 2014, has repeatedly come under criticism for threatening to arrest or deport members of Cambodia’s large diaspora in South Korea who participated in pro-opposition activities in the country.
Most recently, he came under scrutiny after declaring on social media that he was working with South Korean “special intelligence” to track anti-government migrants working illegally in the country. South Korean authorities spoken to by the Post said they knew nothing of such a joint operation.
However, the threat sufficiently scared three migrant workers, who appeared with Dina in a video on social media to apologise for burning pictures of Prime Minister Hun Sen in early 2014.
On Facebook earlier this month, Dina appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen to help safeguard his position and deliver him “justice” amid what he called a “setup scenario of defamation and slander”.
Speaking yesterday, Yi Sinorn, the president of a CNRP-aligned youth group in Korea, said that at a recent dinner they had together, Dina complained he was being set up by subordinates.
“I had noticed he had changed and he seemed unhappy and concerned and when he delivered his speech; he did not speak well,” said Sinorn, who was “shocked” to hear that Dina was being questioned.
“I think this is related to the fact he did not get along well with his lower officials . . . and he used his role to get involved with police and threaten workers.”
Dina’s outspoken partisanship as ambassador contrasted starkly with his early years in politics as an anti-government dissident.
He led the anti-communist Khmer Front Party, which was formed in 2003, and later joined the Norodom Ranariddh Party in 2006. After serving as NRP spokesman, Dina defected to the ruling CPP in 2009.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry yesterday did not respond to requests for comment. The Cambodian Embassy in Korea did not answer phone calls.
Yentieng yesterday also issued a broader warning to civil servants, noting the ACU’s recent action against Phnom Penh-based Foreign Ministry bureau chief Ear Se, who was recently arrested for taking bribes to process paperwork for foreign companies.
“In short, we want to say to all officials in all ministries, pay attention to public services and to not demand money from clients,” Yentieng said.
“This is the result of demanding money. Some people, when festivals like Pchum Ben and Khmer New Year and other ceremonies approach, increase their activities in terms of demanding money. They will be caught.”
Yentieng then addressed embassies directly.
“They can not think that because they are far from the country, they can avoid controls when it comes to financial policy. We would ask [embassies] to strengthen their work when it comes to complying with the financial policy of the Economy and Finance Ministry.”
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton