Three businessmen accused of stealing state electricity worth hundreds of thousands of dollars have been sentenced to jail and fined between $7,000 and $10,000 each, according to Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Electricite du Cambodge officials.
Trial Judge Kong Seth confirmed Monday that Chea Rity, who owns a power company in his name, and two employees were found guilty of stealing power from the state-owned utility and selling it to private customers. “The court found at least six locations where Chea Rithy’s company stole electricity,” Kong Seth said.
The court sentenced Chea Rithy to two years in jail with a fine of about $10,000. His accomplices Chea Phirom and Meas Kea were sentenced to 18 months in jail each and fined $7,000, he said.
Three EdC officials were also suspected of being involved in the theft and suspended earlier this year. Funcinpec lawmaker Sam Ram Sek went so far as to demand an independent government inquiry, alleging rampant corruption inside the EdC. Chea Rithy also accused EdC officials of receiving monthly payoffs of between $5,000 and $10,000 from the scam.
But Ty Norin, deputy director of EdC, said Monday that no formal charges against EdC officials have been brought.
“We continue checking on our staff,” he said. “But we have had no official reports to indicate that [the EdC officials and the Chea Rithy] are linked together.”
The three businessmen convicted last week were arrested in mid-February. Phnom Penh Governor claimed at that time that at least $20,000 worth of stolen electricity was resold to hotels, businesses and private residents each month.
“We are happy to see the court proved them guilty,” Ty Norin said.
EdC has been suffering from huge monthly losses of energy. Company officials say the utility has lost more than $830,000 in the past few years to power stealing by Chea Rithy. An EdC internal investigation found Chea Rithy had fraudulent business deals with 15 private companies that also registered as users with the EdC, officials said.
“Chea Rithy stole electricity in many ways—using mainly three different types of [scams,]” Ty Norin said Monday, declining to elaborate further.
But he did say in March that a number of EdC customers signed additional contracts with Chea Rithy, who offered electricity at 500 riel per kilowatt—150 riel cheaper than EdC’s commercial rate. Chea Rithy’s company collected monthly charges from the private businesses and tampered with EdC meters. The company then forwarded part of the money to the EdC based on the falsified low readings, he said.
Power theft has plagued the state-utility for years, increasing after private distribution by wholesalers was allowed in early 1990. “Most of the energy loss comes from stealing,” Ty Norin said. “We took several measures after the February’s discovery. Our loss of energy is coming down from 18 percent to 17 percent.”
About 15 percent of power loss is considered to be standard in Cambodia while losses in developed countries are normally less than 10 percent.