Cambodia’s former deputy consul-general to Ho Chi Minh City, who was arrested last year on suspicion of forging documents to allow luxury-grade wood to be exported into Vietnam, was sentenced to three years in prison by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday.
Presiding Judge Veng Hourt found Taing Sok Ngy, 38, guilty of using a forged public document, rather than forging the document himself, and decided to suspend one year of the sentence. Four co-defendants were sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison each for forging public documents.
Mr. Sok Ngy was arrested at a restaurant in Phnom Penh in June last year for allegedly producing counterfeit documents permitting Cambodian companies to export luxury-grade timber into Vietnam.
During his trial in August, the prosecution described a transaction in which La Orn, a representative of the Heng Ly Company, presented Mr. Sok Ngy with a letter purportedly from the Ministry of Commerce allowing 1,000 cubic meters to be exported across the border. Mr. Sok Ngy allegedly issued diplomatic documents giving a green light to the exports without checking the letter’s authenticity.
The court also presented six other letters allowing timber exports that were ostensibly sent to Vietnam from the Council of Ministers, each with diplomatic notes from Mr. Sok Ngy approving the exports.
The former diplomat insisted during his trial that he had verified the legitimacy of the documents with the Commerce Ministry, which gave him permission to send diplomatic notes to Hanoi clearing the sales.
Mr. Orn and three other defendants—Chhun Phan, Heng Ly and Van Sok Minh—were found guilty of forging documents and using forged public documents as part of the wood smuggling scheme.
They were sentenced in absentia to seven years in jail and fined 8 million riel (about $2,000) each. An arrest warrant for the four was issued after the verdict was handed down.
“[Mr. Sok Ngy] did not produce the document, he just took the document for processing,” Judge Hourt said after the trial, explaining why the charge against the diplomat had been downgraded.
Upon leaving the courtroom, Mr. Sok Ngy blasted the decision.
“I think it is an injustice for me. What evidence do they have to accuse me of using forged public documents?” he said. “I just translated and sent [the documents].”
Mr. Sok Ngy said he would discuss appealing the decision with his lawyer.