Judge Releases Owner of Money Kiosk Accused of Stealing $1M

Police are perplexed after a judge released without charge the owner of a private money transfer kiosk in Battambang province who was accused of cheating customers out of about $1 million.

Chea Somaly, 32, was arrested at her Chamreoun Somaly kiosk in Mong Russei district’s Kear commune on Monday night after numerous customers complained that they could not withdraw their money, district police chief Kith Heang said.

Ms. Somaly’s clients included business owners based in Cambodia and Thailand who transferred amounts ranging between $5,000 and $40,000, as well as migrant workers in Thailand who had transferred smaller amounts, Mr. Heang said.

“The suspect tried to prevent customers from withdrawing the money for different reasons,” he said, including telling recipients she had not received funds.

Mr. Heang said police had so far received 22 complaints about Ms. Somaly, who also owns a Wing kiosk, and expected more to follow, as an estimated $1 million had been stolen.

“This is only the first calculation, but I think more people will come forward to make complaints,” he said.

Touch Sopheakdey, deputy prosecutor at the Battambang Provincial Court, said the suspect had confessed to keeping transferred funds for herself, and was charged with breach of trust.

Investigating Judge Nhean Sovann, however, dismissed the case with little explanation.

“I decided not to detain her, because this case was not related to a breach of trust. This is only a loan contract, and they are doing their business with someone else,” he said.

Mr. Heang, the police chief, said he was perplexed by the decision.

“I do not understand,” he said. “Why did they do that? Now white has become black.”

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