As his trial began on Friday, Suth Dina, Cambodia’s disgraced former ambassador to South Korea, scattered the blame for his alleged misdeeds on his predecessor, government ministries and his four accusers at the embassy.
“I request Samdech…Hun Sen, the head of state, to acquit me,” Mr. Dina said, addressing the prime minister—to whom he was once a personal adviser—through reporters gathered at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. “I am innocent.”
Since Mr. Dina’s arrest in April, the Anti-Corruption Unit has publicly accused him of extensive graft, including taking kickbacks from migrant workers, pocketing fees paid for visas and failing to pay rent on the embassy in Seoul. The unit also raised suspicions over his ballooning personal wealth, which it says increased by as much as $3 million during his three-year tenure in South Korea.
His trial on Friday, however, boiled down to $116,995 in embassy revenue that he had failed to transfer on time to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, an allegation that led to charges of abuse of power and unlawful exploitation. Both charges carry a sentence of two to five years in prison and a fine of 4 million to 10 million riel, or about $1,000 to $2,500.
“During the time Mr. Suth Dina worked as Cambodia’s ambassador to South Korea, he exploited the state budget,” deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok said at the hearing. “In fact, $116,995 was not paid back to the ministry on time by Mr. Suth Dina. He took this money to spend.”
Mr. Dina, 45, told the court that his predecessor had left him with a raft of problems at the embassy, and because the ministries of finance and foreign affairs were late to deliver the money necessary to tackle them, he dipped into available funds to deal with them.
There were administrative costs and rent for the embassy building that had to be paid, he explained.
“For all these expenditures, I needed to spend my own pocket money first. I only received money from the ministry later,” Mr. Dina said. “I was late to send money back to the ministry because the ministry was also late to send money to me.”
The corruption case was built on the written testimonies of four witnesses, all embassy officials who were not at the hearing. Their testimonies, as presented on Friday, touched on wider accusations such as Mr. Dina allegedly confiscating migrant workers’ passports and paying people not on staff to do the embassy’s work.
But Mr. Dina claimed the officials were taking revenge against him for cracking down on their schemes of bribery, supposedly involving the processing of passports.
Heng Sideth, one of Mr. Dina’s lawyers, said the case against his client was weak.
“The ACU does not have any evidence beside the three or four people who have accused my client,” Mr. Sideth said.
Presiding Judge Kor Vandy said that a verdict would be announced on December 1.