Cambodia's ambassador to South Korea charged with corruption over visa scam

Former Cambodian Ambassador to South Korea, Suth Dina (right) is escorted by an officer, while arriving at the Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on April 7, 2016.
Former Cambodian Ambassador to South Korea, Suth Dina (right) is escorted by an officer, while arriving at the Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on April 7, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia's ambassador to South Korea was charged with corruption and embezzlement on Thursday (April 7) for a slew of scams that allegedly included siphoning off more than US$100,000 (S$134,623) selling visas, the country's anti-corruption unit (ACU) said.

Suth Dina was detained earlier this week by anti-corruption officers in Phnom Penh after a lengthy probe into multiple complaints over his 25-month stint as ambassador to Seoul.

He was placed in pre-trial detention on Thursday by the Phnom Penh municipal court and faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted, Mr Om Yentieng, the head of ACU, said at a press conference.

"We have a lot of evidence. Primarily that he embezzled money worth US$116,995 by selling visa stickers," Mr Om Yentieng told reporters.

The former ambassador is also accused of secretly opening a bank account to keep the insurance payments of some Cambodian migrant workers who died while labouring in South Korea and misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state budget during his time in office, Mr Om Yentieng added.

Suth Dina is a former member of an anti-government student group who defected to Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party in 2009 and was then named an undersecretary of state at the ministry of foreign affairs.

He was appointed the ambassador to South Korea in 2014.

At the press conference, the ACU laid out how wealthy Suth Dina had become, saying he had US$7.2 million in cash - a US$3 million increase from 2013 - 500 pieces of jewellery and 12.7kg of gold (worth US$508,000 at the current market value).

The ACU said it was considering filing further charges.

Since its inception in 2011, the ACU has arrested dozens of people, including officials, over graft as part of the kingdom's drive to eradicate high-level corruption.

Last week, a Foreign Ministry official was arrested for allegedly taking bribes from a overseas company.

While the ACU has had some success, under Prime Minister Hun Sen's 30-year rule Cambodia has remained among the world's most corrupt nations.

Last year it was ranked 150th out of 168 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.