The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday handed down three- and four-year jail sentences to four high-ranking members of Chea Sim’s inner circle after convicting them of fraud for tricking the Senate president into signing faked contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
But of the four—protocol chief Pheng Kunthea Borey, 56; adviser Chan Kosal, 60; adviser Ponlork Ho, 58; and Khieu Bora, 50, an assistant to Ms. Kunthea Borey-—only the protocol chief was there to hear the verdict. A prison guard, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the other three had refused to attend at the last minute.
In court, Judge Te Sam Ang announced four-year jail terms for Ms. Kunthea Borey, Mr. Ho and Mr. Kosal and a three-year term for Mr. Bora. He issued a fine of 2 million riel—about $500—against Mr. Ho, who was also convicted of illegal use of a uniform for donning the duds of a three-star police general, the only charge any of the four has ever confessed to.
The other three were each ordered to pay a symbolic 9,000 riel—about $2.25—in compensation as well.
All four have consistently denied the fraud charges and blamed the $500 million swindle on the Malaysian firms behind the contracts.
Judge Sam Ang also sentenced Johary Binmohadi, a Malaysian national also known as “Dino” and described in court as a go-between for the firms and Mr. Sim’s staff, to a four-year jail term in absentia.
Upon hearing the verdict, Ms. Kunthea Borey began sobbing and relied on two guards to carry her back to her seat.
Once outside the courthouse, she continued professing her innocence and vowed to appeal.
“I cannot accept this sentence and I absolutely reject it because I was not involved with those documents,” she told a group of waiting reporters. “I will appeal to prove that I am innocent. It is injustice because I have been jailed even though I am innocent.”
Also speaking outside the courthouse, her lawyer, Muong Sokun, refused to be drawn on how Ms. Kunthea Borey would make her appeal case.
“Wait until it [the case] arrives at the Court of Appeal, then I will illustrate,” he said.
Lawyers for the other three Cambodian defendants said they would appeal as well.
Mam Sarin, Mr. Sim’s cabinet chief, and Yim Leang, who heads the Senate president’s bodyguard detail and on whose behalf the lawsuit was officially filed, declined to comment.
During last week’s trial, Ms. Kunthea Borey said she had looked over the contracts and noticed irregularities, chief among them that Mr. Sim was obligated to pay for the projects despite a prior understanding that the costs would be footed by the Malaysian firms. When she raised the issue with Mr. Kosal, she said, he told her not to worry because he, not Mr. Sim, would pay.
Mr. Kosal denied the account, saying he trusted the contracts because they had been passed on my Mr. Ho, who had built up a close relationship with seven Malaysian tycoons involved in the case.