A senior Education Ministry official who was charged with sexual assault during a work trip to South Korea in May has been stripped of his position and made to repay the roughly $12,000 used to secure his release, the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
Kry Seang Long, director of the ministry’s vocational orientation department, was arrested in Seoul on May 26 for sexually assaulting his interpreter after representing Cambodia at the 2016 Asean+3 HRD Forum, Cambodian and South Korean officials said on Wednesday.
According to a June 9 letter from Cambodia’s ambassador to South Korea, Long Dimanche, to Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn, the Education Ministry paid 14.1 million won, or about $12,300, to secure his release from detention.
Only on Thursday, however, did the Education Ministry address the scandal publicly, referring to an article about Mr. Seang Long’s arrest published in the The Cambodia Daily on Thursday.
“In response to this article, the ministry would like to clarify that Kry Seang Long, director of the vocational orientation department, was assigned to attend a workshop in the Republic of Korea and on the closing day of the workshop, he assaulted a female Korean interpreter,” the ministry said in a statement.
“In resolving this incident, [Mr. Long] borrowed some money from his colleagues and the department of vocational orientation to pay the fine in accordance with the court’s decision as civil compensation. But in principle, the Ministry of Economy and Finance does not authorize using the state’s budget to solve an individual’s personal issue,” the statement said, adding that Mr. Long had already repaid the funds and been stripped of his position.
“The ministry’s disciplinary council already took administrative measures…to remove him from his position,” it said.
The statement, which was posted to the Education Ministry’s Facebook page, came amid mounting public outrage over the case. In comments on the page, critics called for further disciplinary action.
“Just administrative measures?” wrote a user named Sopharith Sin. “How about legal action? Does the Ministry of Education support this underworld man who assaulted a woman?”
“To show personal responsibility, [he] should be removed from the position and should not be allowed to transfer to other [positions],” wrote Saroeun Minea.
Neither Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron nor ministry spokesman Ros Salin could be reached by telephone. Mr. Salin did not respond to multiple messages requesting comment.
The ruling CPP has a track record of reassigning officials who draw public ire for misbehaving or breaking the law, rather than firing them outright.
Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua said the online outrage had prompted the Education Ministry to take action in a case that would otherwise have been “swept under the rug.”
“It’s still not right that ministry put [forward] the money in the first place,” she said. “The minister should know better than that.”
Ms. Sochua said she was drafting a letter to Mr. Chuon Naron seeking clarification on the case. “I still need to know why the national budget was used,” she said.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said he was pleased to know that Mr. Seang Long had repaid the money, but agreed that “it never should have been spent in the first place.”
Mr. Kol questioned where the cash-strapped ministry had so quickly come up with more than $12,000 to pay for fines related to an employee’s sexual assault case.
“I don’t think there is a budget line for such a thing in any institution,” he said.
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