The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday questioned three senior officials from the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) who stand accused of embezzling $92,929.
Speaking after questioning under the court’s deputy prosecutor Ek Chheng Huot, union president Ath Thorn denied siphoning off the money, which was intended as a settlement payment for workers embroiled in a dispute with their bosses at a garment factory.
“I didn’t commit what I have been accused of,” he said. “We helped workers to be reinstated and demanded that the money be given to them.”
He said he is unsure what the court’s next step would be.
The questioning comes after 40 workers, along with two former CCAWDU organizers, last month filed court complaints against Mr. Thorn, the union’s deputy president Kong Athit and secretary-general Ek Pheakdey.
The complaint alleges that workers were only paid between $1,250 and $2,700 in a 2008 settlement with E Garment Factory that should have seen them get between $3,000 and $4,000 each.
Um Visal, who was part of a group of seven workers who founded CCAWDU in 2000, claims along with another union official that Mr. Thorn offered to pay them higher salaries to hide the corruption.
Mr. Visal on Friday held a press conference calling on the three men to step down.
But Mr. Thorn said Wednesday that Mr. Visal “intentionally incited workers to break up CCAWDU, because he has seen that the union is strong.”
He also claimed that 99 percent of the union’s members had agreed that Mr. Visal should be fired because he refused to renew members’ contracts.
Mr. Athit, who stands accused of embezzlement, said Mr. Visal would “regret” acting in his own interest.
“I was not embezzling money and I am not in charge of financial matters,” he said.
Reached by telephone, Mr. Visal said he is convinced that the three are guilty of corruption and also took issue with Mr. Thorn’s attempts to have him removed from his position.
“There is no one behind me trying to break CCAWDU,” he said.
“I have tried several times to talk with him directly, but he always says he is busy,” Mr. Visal said, adding that Mr. Thorn had no right to seek his dismissal.
Mr. Thorn is among six union leaders who have been the target of numerous legal threats from factory owners and the government for their efforts to organize nationwide strikes and protests calling for a $160 minimum wage in the garment sector.
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