The director of Preah Vihear’s provincial department of mines and energy admitted in court on Tuesday that he had sold off state land worth about $65,000, but claimed he had done it at the request of older officials and did not pocket the money himself.
Kong Makara, 46, the department’s director, and Nuon Pally, 53, the chief of its finance bureau, were charged with embezzlement and intentional destruction in November following an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Unit.
Under questioning at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday, Mr. Makara, who was appointed director in 2011, admitted that his department’s premises had shrunk by about 1,500 square meters to 4,875 square meters during his tenure.
However, he placed the blame at the feet of 16 older officials in his department who he said had persuaded him to do it.
“The officers were in serious need in their livelihoods so they requested approval from me,” Mr. Makara said.
“I also understand that it was a mistake,” he said. “Actually, I should have submitted the request to the leader, especially Samdech Techo [Prime Minister] Hun Sen in order to solve their livelihoods.”
While admitting he had received $10,000 for the sale, Mr. Makara claimed he had used the money to purchase a new motorbike for the department, while paying off its debts and “helping society.”
The second defendant, Mr. Phally, admitted to the court that he had received $5,000 and posed as the owner of the land while the other officers got $2,000 each.
Yann Sothea, the buyer, said he had bought the land for $4,800 per meter in width—as measured along the road it abuts—and built two apartments on the land.
“I bought [the land] with a proper contract,” Mr. Sothea said.
“If this land becomes disputed land, I will become a victim,” he added, and asked the judges to determine compensation for him.
In his closing statement, deputy prosecutor Ngin Pech said the defendants knew they were illegally selling state land. However, he recommended the charge be lowered to unlawful exploitation, which carries a lesser sentence of between two and five years in prison.
Tuot Lux, a lawyer for Mr. Makara, asked that his client be released due to harboring “no ill intentions.”
“If my client was charged, all the officers should also be charged because they got the benefit,” he said. “He had no ill intentions, no ambition for building a villa and did not sell and put the money in his own pocket.”
A verdict is expected on July 4.