A military colonel serving a one-year sentence for fraud returned to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday to stand trial on new charges for allegedly accepting a bribe to process a student’s application to study at the National Defense University.
It was at least the third time in less than six months that Ouk Sithorn, who worked in the Defense Ministry’s inspections department, has stood trial for fraud, following a hearing last month in a nearly identical case.
In court on Thursday, Mr. Sithorn, 48, admitted to accepting $2,800 from plaintiff Huot Thorn, who claims he made the payment on behalf of a prospective student. Mr. Sithorn also admitted to promising to return the cash to Mr. Thorn if the application was rejected, only to use it to resolve a family issue.
“I acknowledge that I said I would pay it back,” he said.
Presiding Judge Yin Saroeun then asked Mr. Sithorn to confirm that he had taken the money via his subordinate in the inspections department, a man identified only as Pov. Mr. Sithorn said it was true.
“You are an official with five stripes,” Judge Sarouen said, “and you made a contract. This was a completely illegal act.”
Mr. Sithorn was sentenced to one year in prison in October after admitting during his trial earlier in the month to accepting part of a $10,000 bribe paid to Kim Sokhon, deputy chief of Defense University’s employment office, who promised to secure admission to the school for three of the plaintiff’s nephews, but never did.
Mr. Sokhon was also convicted in the case, but has not been arrested or jailed.
Sot Vuthy, deputy director of the Defense Ministry’s inspection department, said on Thursday that Mr. Sithorn had been suspended from his position. He added that during a recent meeting of department officials, Mr. Sithorn’s case was discussed, and that bureau chiefs had been instructed to tell lower-ranking officials to avoid such situations.
However, Sar Moeun, vice rector of the Defense University, said that Mr. Sokhon was still employed by the school, and that he knew nothing about the administrator’s fraud conviction.
“He is still working as usual. I saw him this morning wearing his military uniform,” he said.