The Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on Wednesday arrested a senior official from the Siem Reap provincial taxation branch and sent him to Phnom Penh to be placed in pretrial detention, officials said Thursday.
Siem Reap Provincial Court president Duch Sok Sarin said that Liv Bunthan, the chief of the province’s medium-scale taxation management unit, had been arrested and charged with corruption offenses under Articles 592 and 593 of the penal code.
The offenses are punishable by two to five years in jail and a fine of 4 million to 10 million riel, or about $1,000 to $2,500.
Judge Sok Sarin said that Mr. Bunthan had been caught charging above the official property taxes set by the government and then pocketing the difference.
“He took $500 but recorded only $200 as state revenue,” Judge Sok Sarin said, saying that the number of times Mr. Bunthan had done this was unclear and would be investigated by the ACU.
“While being questioned, he asked to use his right to remain silent until he could obtain a lawyer to defend him…but I decided to place him in pretrial detention for the alleged corruption,” he said, adding that Mr. Bunthan now has a lawyer.
Siem Reap taxation branch director Khoy Chhin confirmed that Mr. Bunthan had been arrested by officers from the ACU on Wednesday and said that the official’s job involved collecting property taxes on hotels in Siem Reap.
However, Mr. Chhin said he did not know the scale of the alleged corruption.
ACU vice chairman Chhay Savuth declined to comment on the case until the investigation is complete, saying that it would be illegal for him to talk about the case.
In November, two officials from the branch of the state electricity body in Mondolkiri province and a tax official in Preah Sihanouk province were charged with corruption and placed in pretrial detention.
The ACU has been tight-lipped about both cases, and has also not yet investigated damning findings of corruption in the health sector uncovered by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria last month.
Pen Bonnar, senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, noted that the ACU has focused largely on lower-level officials since it was created in 2010.
“Quite often I notice that the ACU is very discriminating,” Mr. Bonnar said. “The arrests are very selective and they only target the low-level officials.
“If the ACU keep arresting low- and medium-level officials, there could be a big protest by those lower officials…as this corruption is occurring systematically,” he added. “The big fishes should be arrested too to keep balance in the combat of corruption.”