Commune Clerk Sent to Court Over Poor Program Fraud

This photo shows Takhmao commune office. Photo: Touch Sovandy

PHNOM PENH – A commune clerk in Takhmao city has been charged with money embezzlement and sent to Kandal Municipal First Instance Court after he had misused funds from the government’s special program launched in support of poor and vulnerable households impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Nov. 19, the Anti-Corruption Unit issued a press release on the case of Sok Sopha, a 46-year-old Takhmao commune clerk who has been arrested for using ID Poor cards that didn’t belong to him. The press release attached statements of the victims and witnesses, as well as the confession from the fraudster himself.

According to the document, the Takhmao commune registered and prepared 539 ID Poor cards for citizens who met the criteria of the program, carried out by the Ministry of Planning, from June 2021 to 2022.

After receiving the cards, Sopha gave 519 of them to Cheam Khoy, a commune chief – who reportedly dispatched them to their beneficiaries – and kept the remaining 20.

According to the Anti-Corruption Unit’s statement, one of the victims and ID Poor card owner Chum Chinda complained to the Department of Social Affairs Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation about never receiving the money and asked it to check the account.

After the Social Affairs Department reported to its parent ministry, the Ministry of Social Affairs Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, the account showed that there had been monthly withdrawals for the last 16 months, totaling 3,712,000 (around $928) over the period – 232,000 riels (about $58) per month.

Following Chum Chinda’s lawsuit, the ministry found unusual activities in 19 other accounts.

On Nov. 14, the National Social Assistance Fund, which cooperated with Takhmao provincial authorities, summoned Sok Sopha and told him they had found unusual activities on 20 ID Poor cards, for a total of 70,988,000 riels (about $17,747). The commune clerk was accused of using these cards and embezzling public money meant to support poor and vulnerable households.

Two days later, on Nov. 16, Vin Savoeun, a representative of the Social Affairs Ministry, filed a lawsuit against Sok Sopha for corruption and sent the commune officer to the Kandal Provincial Commissariat. Then, the authority began investigating the case and transferred the rest of the procedures to the hands of the Anti-Corruption Unit.

Confronted by authorities Sok Sopha confessed he had been misusing 18 ID Poor cards. Among the 20 cards that he didn’t give to commune chief Cheam Khoy, three were used by their actual owners – despite the National Social Assistance Fund qualifying the financial movements on their account as “unusual” – while another one was an accidental duplicate. But there were two additional cards that their owners never received and were actually used by Sopha.

With those 18 cards, Sopha has allegedly embezzled 52,748,000 riels (around $13,187). He confessed he has withdrawn the money for his personal use and admitted he’s done so through a Wing agency, using five cards at a time. He used to withdraw money at the end of the month, and the beginning of the following month.

To successfully complete his scam, he was using his position as clerk to convince the Wing agency owner to grant him the money, arguing the owners of the ID Poor cards were sick and gave him the right to take their allowance on their behalf.

Throughout the investigation, the Anti-Corruption Unit stated that some ID Poor card owners claimed they never received the cards nor the money, although they had asked Sok Sopha about it.

In Takhmao, some village chiefs of Takhmao II commune said no one did not receive the ID poor cards, adding that Sopha gave them to the owners. However, some other chief villages reported that some citizens could not withdraw the money due to passcode error, while some others could withdraw some money but in an inadequate amount and only three to four months after they had reported it to Sok Sopha.

The Anti-Corruption Unit also included the statements of victims in its press release. Several of them made statements similar to some commune chiefs, saying they have applied for an ID Poor card or asking Sok Sopha for help with passcode error, but they have never received the cards back from the clerk.

Chum Chinda reported having been called by Sok Sopha on Nov. 13 to withdraw 800,000 riels (approximately $200) at Sopha’s usual Wing agency. But no receipt was given to the victim after the transaction.

According to the press release, 11 of the 18 victims eventually received the money they were meant to receive after the commune chief Cheam Khoy and the authority who went to their residence on Nov. 15, for a total of 33,014,000 riels (about $8,052).

Sok Sopha has been sent to the Kandal Municipal First Court over a money embezzlement charge, under article 597 and article 598 of the Criminal Code, and Article 32 of the Anti-Corruption Law.

No date has been set to conduct the first hearing.

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