Two Military Officers Convicted of Fraud; One Still Employed

Two military officers were charged with fraud and sentenced to one year in prison Wednesday for accepting bribes to process the applications of prospective National Defense University (NDU) students, although one of the men was not present in court and remains employed by the university.

Plaintiff Heng Rithy paid $10,000 to Kim Sokhon, an administrator at NDU, in October 2013 in exchange for securing admission to the university for three of his nephews. Mr. Rithy, a military officer himself, began to suspect that he had been tricked when he did not hear back from Mr. Sokhon within the agreed timeframe of three months.

Defense Ministry officer Ouk Sithorn, right, exits the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after being found guilty of fraud for accepting a bribe. (Siv Channa)
Defense Ministry officer Ouk Sithorn, right, exits the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after being found guilty of fraud for accepting a bribe. (Siv Channa)

In a written statement read out during an October 8 hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Mr. Sokhon claimed he gave $9,000 of the initial bribe to Ouk Sithorn, a colonel at the Defense Ministry’s inspection department, asking him to help facilitate the deal.

During the same hearing, Mr. Sithorn admitted to taking the money, but claimed he had only received $7,500.

Handing down the guilty verdict Wednesday, Presiding Judge Top Chhun Heng sentenced both men to a year in prison, fined them each 1 million riel (about $250), and ordered them to pay a total of $8,000 in compensation to Mr. Rithy.

Mr. Sokhon’s absence for the duration of the trial has not been explained, and it was unclear Wednesday if a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

NDU vice rector Sar Meoun said Mr. Sokhon was at work Wednesday and claimed that he was unaware of the charges against the officer, despite commenting on the case earlier this month.

“I have not seen any court orders and he is still walking free as of this morning. When I left my office I saw him walking downstairs in a military uniform,” Mr. Meoun said.

When asked whether Mr. Sokhon was still employed at the NDU, rector Ung Sean said he was not sure because the university had a large number of staff members.

“It is personal matter and we will follow the law,” he said.

Ministry of Defense spokesman Chhum Socheat said the case did not reflect any systemic problems in the ministry, adding that the matter was now out of their hands.

“We have legal guidelines for recruiting [students] and on any matters of wrongdoing we will let the law take action,” he said. “The Ministry of Defense cannot do anything.”

Sot Vuthy, deputy director of the ministry’s inspection department, said he did not know whether Mr. Sithorn would be reinstated upon release.

“We will have to wait and have an internal discussion,” he said. “We will wait to receive the official court verdict first.”

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