Kandal Provincial Court investigating judge Hong Marinich on November 18 remanded Takhmao commune clerk Sok Sopha into custody on charges of unlawful exploitation of his role as a state employee by stealing more than 52 million riel ($12,700) from the government’s cash transfer programme for poor households.

So Sarin, director of the provincial administrative secretariat, told The Post on November 20 that deputy prosecutor Ek Sunrasmey placed Sopha is handling the case.

Sunrasmey said on November 20 that the prosecutor's office charged Sopha, a 46-year-old from Prek Samrong 2 village of Takhmao town and commune, in accordance with articles 597 and 598 of the Criminal Code, after receiving the case from the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on November 18.

The ACU said in a November 16 statement that Sopha was arrested by the police that day in connection with the non-payment of the government’s cash transfer for poor and vulnerable households affected by Covid-19.

In a separate statement released on November 19, the ACU said that during the course of their investigation, they spoke with victims, witnesses and the suspect as well as examining documents and other evidence and concluded that he had been embezzling the payments through the illegal possession of 18 IDPoor cards with the total amount stolen adding up to 52,748,000 riel.

The ACU said Sopha's actions violated the trust placed in him as a public servant whose job as a clerk in Takhmao commune included providing the equity cards to those eligible in accordance with government guidelines.

"This is an individual who committed a crime that seriously violated the guidelines and principles of the government," it said.

According to the ACU, there were witnesses to Sopha's criminal activity as well as documentary evidence, which then led the suspect himself to confess during questioning.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting in Phnom Penh on November 17, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said the clerk was a civil servant with the role of assisting the council and commune chief, and if the allegations were true he would be held accountable before the law.

"Everyone is obligated to obey the law and whoever does wrong will be held responsible for it," he said.

Article 597 of the Criminal Code defines "unlawful exploitation" as actions taken by any public official using the powers of their office to exploit their position for personal benefit. Article 598 stipulates that the offence is punishable by two to five years in prison and a fine of up to 10 million riel.