The director of the Preah Vihear provincial department of mines and energy was found guilty of selling off state land on Tuesday but will walk free today after the judge decided to suspend the remaining 16 months of his sentence—without offering an explanation.
Kong Makara, 46, the department’s director, and Nuon Phally, 53, its finance bureau chief, were charged with embezzlement and intentional destruction in November following an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Unit. The charge carries a sentence of five to 10 years.
However, at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday, Judge Theam Chan Piseth reduced the charge to unlawful exploitation—which can see offenders locked up for between two and five years—and suspended the rest of their sentences due to time already served.
“[The court] sentenced defendant Nuon Phally and Kong Makara to two years each by serving the prison term from the day of pretrial detention until the day of the verdict announcement, and the remaining sentence will be suspended,” the judge said, without offering any explanation as to why they would be freed.
Both were placed in provisional detention on November 3 and have served eight months in prison. The remaining 16 months of the two-year sentence was suspended.
Mr. Makara was sentenced in absentia but no reason was given in court for his non-appearance.
The judge also ordered the confiscation of the 975-square-meter plot illegally sold and $5,500 out of the proceeds from the sale from four other people. No fine was ordered for Mr. Makara or Mr. Phally.
Last week, Mr. Makara claimed he had sold off the $65,000 land at the request of older officials and did not pocket the money himself. He admitted receiving $10,000 from the sale, but claimed he had used the money to purchase a new motorbike for the department, while paying off its debts and “helping society.”
Leaving the court, the wife of Yann Sothea, the buyer of the land that has now been confiscated, called the decision an injustice.
“I am not satisfied because I bought [the land] with signatures from the village, commune and even city,” she said, declining to give her name, and adding that she had bought the land with her husband in 2013 and still had all relevant documentation.
“There needs to be compensation for me,” she said.