SEATV Ex-Official Convicted, Must Repay $5M

Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday sentenced the former director general of a local radio and television station to three and half years in prison and ordered him to pay almost $5 million to his former employer, Southeast Asia Radio and TV (SEATV).

The accused, Sem Sovanndeth, was jailed in October following a complaint lodged by SEATV Vice Chairman Kao Kim Hourn, who is also a Foreign Ministry secretary of state. Mr Sovanndeth was too ill to attend court yesterday for the reading of his guilty verdict and also did not attend his one-day trial on May 11 where he was accused of breach of trust in relation to his financial management of the station.

Mr Kim Hourn had accused Mr Sovanndeth of collecting vast sums of money, to the tune of more than $4.7 million, by padding the station’s payroll, inflating construction costs and submitting invoices for purchases of fictitious equipment.

“The court ordered the defendant Sem Sovanndeth, 52, to pay $4,740,062 in restitution and another $250,000 in compensation to the complainant Kao Kim Hour,” municipal court Judge Oeung Seang announced in his verdict yesterday.

During his trial, Mr Sovanndeth pleaded his innocence in a statement that was read to the court and in which he claimed that Mr Kim Hourn was well aware of the expenditures being made at the radio and TV station and that, as the station’s boss, he had given his approval to the spending.

Mr Kim Hourn could not be reached for comment yesterday. His lawyer, Ing Kerya, welcomed the verdict. “The verdict is justice for my client,” Mr Kerya said.

Mr Sovanndeth’s lawyer, Vong Pheakdey, said the trial was a charade as SEATV’s books had not been professionally audited and that the court officials had not expertise when it came to financial investigations.

“The court should have an auditor investigate this case,” Mr Pheakdey said yesterday. “Who is involved in this case? There was a huge amount of money. Where did the money come from?

Mr Pheakdey also said that he could not believe the owner of the $4.7 million allegedly siphoned off by his client could have allowed such a large sum to disappear un­noticed. Mr Pheakdey said that he did not know if his client would appeal his conviction, as he had not met Mr Sovanndeth since March.

PJ Prison Chief Srey Watha said yesterday Mr Sovanndeth is being held in detention and is recovering from medical complications due to high blood pressure.

 

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