In the face of mounting criticism, the Ministry of Education on Friday released a second statement defending its handling of a senior official’s arrest for molesting his interpreter in South Korea last month, and appeared to compare the sexual assault case to deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha’s alleged affair with a hairdresser.
And while the Education Ministry has said that Kry Seang Long was removed from his position as director of the ministry’s vocational orientation department, it remained unclear on Friday whether he had been transferred to a new position or fired outright.
Mr. Seang Long was arrested in Seoul on May 26 for sexually assaulting his interpreter after representing Cambodia at the 2016 Asean+3 HRD Forum, Cambodian and South Korean officials said on Wednesday.
According to a June 9 letter from Cambodia’s ambassador to South Korea, Long Dimanche, to Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn, the Education Ministry paid 14.1 million Korean won, or about $12,300, to secure his release.
But the Education Ministry did not formally acknowledge the case until Thursday, when it released a statement responding to a Cambodia Daily article about Mr. Seang Long’s arrest published the same day.
According to the statement, the official “borrowed some money from his colleagues and the department of vocational orientation to pay the fine” and has since been removed from his position.
In a “clarification” on Friday, the Education Ministry said Mr. Seang Long was suspended from his position upon returning from Seoul on June 10 and removed four days later.
Shifting gears, the ministry then went on the offensive.
“The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport regrets that there are a number of newspapers, civil society organizations and political parties that have criticized these measures,” it said.
“A small number of civil society organizations and political parties are not brave enough to criticize or take measures against their political leader, who is involved in a sex scandal,” it continued, in an apparent reference to Mr. Sokha, the deputy opposition leader.
Mr. Sokha has been holed up in the CNRP’s Phnom Penh headquarters since police attempted to arrest him on May 26 over his failure to appear for questioning in a “prostitution” case—widely believed to be politically motivated—related to claims that he took a mistress.
Officials at the Education Ministry either could not be reached on Friday or said they were too busy to talk.
Ros Sopheap, director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, a local NGO, said comparing Mr. Seang Long’s sexual assault case to Mr. Sokha’s alleged infidelity was inappropriate.
Mr. Seang Long’s crime “is, of course, violence against women, harassment. And in this case he has been accused by the Korean government,” Ms. Sopheap said. “By comparing the two, it appears that they do not recognize the problem.”
Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua said the use of state funds to secure Mr. Seang Long’s release remained the most concerning issue.
“This is about accountability. This is a very serious case,” she said. “This isn’t just any low official. He’s representing the Ministry of Education.”