Customs Official Guilty Of Soliciting Kickbacks

An official from the Finance Ministry’s customs and excise department was sentenced on Thursday to two years in prison after being convicted of taking kickbacks from foreign companies to process import documents—but will serve only half the term.

Ung Chea Veng, chief of the department’s non-garment investment bureau, was detained at a Phnom Penh hotel by Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) officials in July after being accused of soliciting bribes.

Mr. Chea Veng confessed to accepting $4,990 for processing documents and agreed to pay $72,000 in compensation. In a hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court earlier this month, his lawyer pleaded for leniency, claiming his client had been lured by the “extravagance” of modern life.

Presiding Judge Kor Vandy announced on Thursday that Mr. Chea Veng—who failed to turn up in court for a second time after complaining of illness—was sentenced to two years in prison for “misappropriation of public funds.” The judge also handed him a fine of 8 million riel, or about $2,000, as well as the $72,000 in compensation to the state.

“The court decided to sentence Ung Chea Veng, 42, to two years in prison but [he] will serve only one year and the rest will be suspended,” Judge Vandy said, without elaborating on why the sentence was halved.

Mr. Chea Veng was put under surveillance after numerous foreign companies lodged complaints with the ACU, the agency said.

While under surveillance, Mr. Chea Veng was caught taking three separate bribes, the judge added.

“He received three envelopes. The first envelope had $800, the second envelope had $50 and the third envelope had $40,” Judge Vandy said.

Mr. Chea Veng was given one month to appeal the verdict.

Contacted by phone, his lawyer, Chhun Vinita, who also did not attend Thursday’s hearing, reiterated that his client had already admitted to wrongdoing.

“My client already made an admission and he also acknowledged his mistake, so it’s the court’s decision,” Mr. Vinita said. “He regrets what happened.”

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