Prison term for gambling away public funds

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PHNOM PENH—A former government official in Cambodia was sentenced last December 2010 to 10 years in prison for corruption.

According to San Chey, ANSA-EAP network fellow for Cambodia, the official pleaded guilty to stealing US$600,000 in public funds and losing it at Nagaworld, a Las Vegas-style casino complex. He stole the money while bureau chief of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

“US$600,000 is such a large amount of money,” says San Chey. “Middle-income Cambodian families can’t even dream of earning this much money in their lifetime.”

“Many of us think 10 years in prison is not enough punishment. The government should investigate the other people involved.

“The money is just too much and we don’t believe this official did it alone. Others had to be involved.”

Chey says the stealing, which began in early 2009, is widely known.

“We wonder why his superior was not informed of the withdrawal of money from the National Bank of Cambodia using a fake signature. As a policy, the bank asks for clarification from the relevant Ministry of Economy and Finance official.

“The stealing took nearly two years. Didn’t they include income, outflows, and balances during the monthly meetings of the Ministry?”

Chey believes there is an important need to strengthen regular monitoring in order to make officials accountable and help prevent theft of public funds.

“In my view, there are similar cases in the other ministries of the Cambodia Government. Ministry leaders at the top and middle ranks should do regular monitoring while the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit implements its campaign to fight corruption,” says Chey.

In an interview with the English-language Phnom Penh Post, Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, says the government’s anti-graft push was welcome but should be implemented in a more measured way.

“I think from the experience of other countries, one would like to see a proper process—how you empower people, educate the judges and the legal offense teams and prosecutors,” says Hang Chhaya.

“Otherwise, down the line a few years later, the same problems will just re-emerge.”

 

Photo courtesy of Sam Mugraby (www.photos8.com)

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