Ministry of Social Affairs Official Quizzed Over $387,000 Theft

High-ranking official Lay Samnang has been questioned by prosecutors over the alleged theft of $387,000 from funds allocated to thousands of poor and disabled
Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, January 12, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, January 12, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa

A high-ranking official has been questioned after he was arrested for the alleged embezzlement of more than $387,000 of state funds that was slated to help the poor, a court official said on Thursday.

The Anti Corruption Unit (ACU) has investigated and compiled a case against Lay Samnang, deputy director of the Finance and Supply Department at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, of the alleged embezzlement, exploitation and money laundering of $387,000 state funds, which was directed towards helping the underprivileged.

Court spokesman, Plang Sophal, said on Thursday that a Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor has questioned Samnang on a wide range of accusations, including illegal exploitation and money laundering.

ACU spokesperson, Soy Chan Vichet, said on Wednesday that ACU investigators discovered that $387,000, including state budget and money for people with disabilities, had gone missing.

Chan Vichet added that Samnang had acted alone in the alleged embezzlement of the funds. “In this case, it was committed by Lay Samnang alone,” Chan Vichet told Kiripost on Wednesday.

According to the ACU statement, Samnang allegedly embezzled the state budget of 11 projects. Four of them date back to 2019 and seven others projects to 2020.

San Chey, President of the Cambodian Social Accountability Coalition, believes that such large-scale corruption and embezzlement is not a small form of fraud. He added that it is unlikely the theft was undertaken by an individual, rather a systematic collusion.

“Therefore, we want to have control over the system flow of deciding whether the cause leads to embezzlement of this money, what is involved in the decision-making system?” Chey asked.

“There must be an investigation in every corner, so that one does not escape and there may be some others. It means that if it is a system, it should be legally responsible in front of the law as well,” he added.

A representative or lawyer for Samnang could not be reached for comment.

The ACU statement said Samnang started his career as a civil servant in 1993 as head of the rural development office in Prey Veng province. At the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, Samnang started work as a financial officer in 2012, before becoming the department’s deputy director a year later.

As deputy director, Samnang was an officer responsible for receiving funds from the National Treasury to keep at the Ministry and later transfer to various projects.

The statement added that Samnang embezzled some of the funds that were slated for thousands of poor families in Svay Rieng, Takeo, Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey provinces, as well as Olympic sport and athletes.

The ACU also said that Samnang has also allegedly stolen some funds for funerals, foreign missions and orphanage centers.

The ACU added that the case against Samnang began in late-2020, when the Ministry discovered he had stolen about $260,000 from seven projects. The Ministry ordered him to repay the funds and in October 2021, it filed a lawsuit against Samnang with Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

In March 2022, the court submitted the case to ACU for further investigation and found that money from four more projects, worth more than $120,000, had also been stolen.

The ACU added that the investigation has taken 13 months, which involved 42 testimonies and 10 witnesses.