PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's ambassador to South Korea was charged Thursday with corruption-related offenses, with investigators saying his assets increased by $3 million during his two years as envoy.
Suth Dina appeared at Phnom Penh Municipal Court to hear charges of embezzlement, which carries a prison term of two to five years, and abuse of power, punishable by a five- to 10-year term.
The ambassador, who was arrested Monday, has denied any wrongdoing. "My arrest is unjust," he said to reporters as he entered the court.
Cambodia has a reputation as one of Asia's most corrupt countries. The problem is a political liability for long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose Cambodian People's Party fended off an unexpectedly strong challenge in the 2013 general election.
Suth Dina used to be an opponent of Hun Sen's government, but joined the ruling party in 2009.
A statement from the government's Anti-Corruption Unit said an investigation had found that Suth Dina had $7.2 million in cash — an increase from $4.2 million when his ambassadorial appointment began in February 2014 — and almost 13 kilograms (29 pounds) of gold, worth about $500,000.
The head of the Anti-Corruption Unit, Om Yentieng, said at a news conference that Suth Dina had embezzled $180,000 from the embassy in Seoul, while the source of his other assets was not yet clear, but they could be seized if found to be illegally gained.
The ACU sent investigators in March to South Korea, where thousands of Cambodians work. Suth Dina was chastised soon after taking up his job by then-Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who declared he must stop allowing his relatives to interfere with the embassy's affairs.
Last year, Suth Dina played a prominent role in warning Cambodian workers in Korea to stay away from meetings held by Cambodian opposition leaders, or risk losing their jobs and being repatriated.