Suth Dina, who rose through the ranks of the Foreign Ministry to become Cambodia’s top diplomat in South Korea in 2014, continued his fall from grace on Thursday as he was imprisoned on charges of corruption and abuse of power, according to his lawyer and the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU).
Mr. Dina was arrested on Monday afternoon after being summoned to the ACU’s headquarters and remained in the unit’s custody until Thursday morning, when he was sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
“Injustice! This is an injustice for me!” Mr. Dina shouted to reporters as he was led to the courtroom, clad in a pink shirt and pinstripe suit. After being charged in the evening, he was hurried into an ACU vehicle bound for Prey Sar prison.
“Judge Leang Samnath decided to imprison him at Prey Sar prison after charging him with abuse of power under Article 35 [of the Anti-Corruption Law] and exploitation under articles 597 and 598 of the Criminal Code,” said Hok Phalla, Mr. Dina’s lawyer. Together, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
The ambassador stands accused of extensive corruption, including taking compensation paid to deceased migrant workers in South Korea, refusing to help them send money home without a kickback, pocketing fees paid for visas, and failing to pay rent on the embassy in Seoul, ACU Chairman Om Yentieng said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.
“A lot of workers [in South Korea] have complained. We looked at this case seriously,” he said, adding that the ACU had enough evidence to accuse Mr. Dina of four or five different crimes, but decided to propose only two to the municipal court in order to swiftly put the ambassador behind bars.
Mr. Yentieng said Mr. Dina’s rapid accumulation of wealth had not escaped the notice of the ACU. On Wednesday, the ambassador’s family members released a video on Facebook in which they claimed to live modestly.
“He pretends to be poor to defend himself and confuse the public,” Mr. Yentieng said.
“He has $7.2 million, without talking about money in his bank account. If we compare that with 2011, he only had $4.2 million,” he said, echoing a statement released by the ACU earlier in the day, which also claimed the ambassador possessed 339 damlungs of gold—worth about $500,000.
“If he is the poor, where is this money coming from?” Mr. Yentieng said, adding that Mr. Dina had attempted to avert prosecution by repaying $120,000 worth of his ill-gotten money after ACU officials visited him in South Korea in March.
“When we came to meet him, he was really worried, and two weeks later he transferred the money back. His team said that when he paid the money back, that would be the end,” he said.
“But it is not,” he added. “For example, if someone steals a bike to use and three month later he pities someone and gives that bike back, then asks when he gives the bike back if the crime is over, it is not.”
“We dared him to reject the accusations. But when we showed each piece of evidence, he confessed—one by one,” he said.
Mr. Yentieng said the ACU would freeze Mr. Dina’s assets pending further investigation.
Mr. Dina rose to prominence as a member of the anti-government Students’ Movement for Democracy in the late 1990s before founding an offshoot organization due to a fallout with other movement leaders.
He then founded and led the Khmer National Front Party before defecting to the Norodom Ranariddh Party in 2006. He finally moved to the CPP in 2009 and was made an undersecretary of state at the Foreign Affairs Ministry before being appointed the government’s envoy to South Korea two years ago.
His tenure as ambassador has been marked by controversy. Shortly after his appointment, the foreign minister wrote to him to criticize the alleged involvement of his family members in embassy affairs. Mr. Dina also drew sharp criticism from the opposition for warning Cambodians in South Korea to stay away from events organized by the CNRP and threatening migrant workers with deportation.
Ou Virak, a political analyst who heads the Future Forum think tank, said Mr. Dina’s ability to acquire vast sums of money through corruption called the integrity of all government officials into question.
“It raises questions about every ambassador—as well as every official in the country,” Mr. Virak said, adding that Mr. Dina’s status as a notorious defector might have made him a prime target for the ACU.
“It’s political. I don’t think it’s just because of his old party affiliations …but I think that’s one of the reasons, because I don’t think he has a lot of friends within the CPP,” he said.
“You know what was more surprising is how he made the $4.3 million before becoming the ambassador. That’s really surprising, I knew the guy and how broke he was before joining the CPP.”
(Additional reporting by Ouch Sony and Taylor O’Connell)