Five Guilty in $2.7M Canadia Bank Fraud

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found two former Canadia Bank managers and three accomplices guilty Monday for their roles in one of the banking sector’s largest-ever fraud cases, with the stiffest penalty given to the confessed ringleader of the scheme, who was sentenced to five years in prison.

Yeth Sopheaktra, 30, a former manager at the bank who claimed she single-handedly embezzled $2.7 million from Canadia between March and October 2013, was found guilty of forgery and breach of special trust for creating fake credit accounts and abusing her authority within the bank.

Four other defendants—Leng Suntry, 34, the former manager of the bank’s credit card section; Sun Saonin, 33, Ms. Sopheaktra’s boyfriend; Chak Kimheng, 59, Ms. Sopheaktra’s mother; and Tep Vinchanthy, 28, whose name appeared on the fraudulent credit cards used in the scheme—were found guilty of being accomplices to breach of special trust and sentenced to two years in prison each.

Ms. Kimheng’s sentence was reduced to time served. Ms. Vinchanthy, the only defendant tried in absentia, remains on the run.

“The court sentenced them after we found them guilty,” said Judge Kor Vandy. “We have issued an arrest warrant for Ms. Vinchanthy.”

Ms. Sopheaktra was fined $2,000 while the other four were fined $1,000 each. The court also ordered the five to return the $2.7 million to the bank along with an additional $200,000 in damages.

Ms. Sopheaktra, Mr. Suntry and Mr. Saonin were originally charged with theft, a charge that the judges changed to breach of special trust. The crimes carry roughly equivalent punishments.

Ms. Sopheaktra, Mr. Suntry and Mr. Saonin declined to comment Monday outside the courtroom. However, Neang Hai, the lawyer for Ms. Sopheaktra and Mr. Saonin, said his clients would appeal the verdict.

“It is unjust and unacceptable,” he said. “My clients will appeal the court’s decision.”

Throughout the six-monthlong trial, which ended in late July, Ms. Sopheaktra insisted she had acted alone in creating fake credit accounts with matching fake credit cards that were used to withdraw up to tens of thousands of dollars a day from ATMs across the city.

As the trial came to a close in July, prosecutors recommended that the court drop charges against Mr. Suntry and Ms. Sopheaktra’s mother because of a lack of evidence.

But lawyers for Canadia told the court that the fraud would have been impossible to pull off without the knowing assistance of Mr. Suntry, Ms. Sopheaktra’s former boss. Prosecutors argued that the other defendants knowingly used the fake credit cards, emblazoned with Ms. Vinchanthy’s name, to withdraw money from bank accounts that were overseen by Ms. Sopheaktra.

Canadia Bank CEO Michael Lor lauded Monday’s decision.

“We do not take dishonest behavior lightly, especially when the behavior is a direct affront to our customers and a serious breach of trust against all those we serve,” he said.

A number of banking executives declined to comment on the precedent the verdict set for insider fraud within the country’s rapidly expanding financial sector.

However, Stephen Higgins, the former head of ANZ Royal Bank, said that given the scale and sophistication of the crime, a harsher sentence would have been merited.

“This wasn’t an opportunistic, spur-of-the-moment crime, it was clearly pre-meditated, so that deserves a higher than normal punishment,” Mr. Higgins said in an email.

“Many bank employees have access to large amounts of money, and it’s important for the integrity of the system that there’s a very strong deterrent against stealing that money.”

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