An official at the Council for the Development of Cambodia confessed during his trial on Monday to soliciting bribes from a garment factory to process its import applications, but said he did not believe at the time that he was committing a crime.
Lay Tharoat, a deputy director of the council’s planning and analysis bureau, was arrested on May 6 by the Anti-Corruption Unit and charged with misappropriation of public funds by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court the next day.
According to the court, a representative of the Raytecs garment factory had submitted documents requesting permission to import a variety of products for production, including material, chemicals and machine parts. But Mr. Tharoat repeatedly told the representative that he was filling in the forms incorrectly and instructed him to do them over until finally, on April 22, the representative asked for help to fix the form.
At that point, Mr. Tharoat allegedly said that a friend of his had paid $1,000 to have the same paperwork processed. Authorities said the factory representative paid him $500 on the spot and another $400 on May 6, the day Mr. Tharoat was arrested.
During Monday’s trial, Judge Y Thavrak asked Mr. Tharoat about the reason for the financial request. He replied that it was for “other expenses” but did not elaborate.
“Was the money legal?” the judge asked.
“At first I did not think it was a kind of corruption,” Mr. Tharoat said. “After officials at the Anti-Corruption Unit arrested me, they told me about the legal procedures and the law on civil servants and the law on corruption. Then I understood clearly.”
Mr. Tharoat’s lawyer, Teng Rithivoan, asked the court for leniency, arguing that her client had repeatedly asked the company representative to fix his mistakes and that the representative finally asked her client to make the necessary corrections for him.
She even appeared to try to leverage her client’s loyalty to the ruling CPP.
“First, this was his first time,” she said. “Second, he has been a civil servant for more than 12 years, and he has served the party and society a lot.”
Judge Thavrak said the verdict would be announced on Friday.