Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Officers jailed for 16 years for fake military recruitment scheme

Officers Rath Chanmony, left, and Sok Bunsoeun, right, wait to hear their verdict at the Military Court in Phnom Penh on Thursday. Panha Chhorpoan

A former major general and a former captain in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) were on Thursday sentenced to 16 years in prison for recruiting soldiers without authorization and taking $100,000 in bribes in return.

Presiding Judge Pork Porn said the pair — Sok Bunsoeun, a 63-year-old former official at the RCAF’s High Command Headquarters, and Rath Chanmony, a 47-year-old officer in Intervention Brigade 3’s Third Battalion — were found guilty of “unlawful raising of armed forces” under Article 463 of the Criminal Code.

The judge said both confessed to recruiting prospective members in Kompong Chhnang, Kompong Speu and Phnom Penh between 2016 and 2018. They found 244 marks who paid between $600 and $4,000 for a position in the military. In total, the pair raised more than $100,000 in bribes for the jobs, he said.

“They truly had a bad intention of recruiting armed forces without considering permission from the authorities,” Judge Porn said, noting that the 244 deceived recruits together would have constituted an entire battalion in the RCAF.

He said the crime was particularly egregious because it reflected poorly on the reputation of Cambodia’s entire military and that the pair created safety issues by trying to recruit people into the armed forces outside the chain of command.

“The Military Court understands that the defendant’s actions impacted public security and public order, and caused bad effects for the livelihoods, freedom and happiness of the people, and also RCAF’s reputation,” the judge said.

Before their sentences were read, the two officers told the court that they accepted responsibility for their wrongdoing. However, both said they had health issues that would be exacerbated by imprisonment and asked for leniency.

“I will accept my punishment. But please, judge: Help reduce my sentence because I am old and I have problems with my health,” Bunsoeun said. 

“I will accept my mistake,” Chanmony said. “But please, judge: Reduce my sentence, because I have heart disease … and my health is not good.” 

A 38-year-old man among seven plaintiffs said he was pleased with the 16-year sentences for the pair. He said his family had wasted bribes on their fake jobs.

“My two brothers paid them $5,000 because we believed that they were recruiting military forces legally, and we did not think they would cheat us,” said the man, who declined to identify himself to journalists, after the verdict.

Men Hong, a deputy prosecutor at the Military Court, said even given Bunsoeun and Chanmony’s claims of health issues, the sentence was appropriate because the crime of “unlawful raising of armed forces” carries a 15-to-30 year sentence.

“I accept this verdict,” Hong said.

The deputy prosecutor also appealed to the Cambodian public not to believe any two-star or three-star generals in RCAF who claimed to be recruiting. He said proper military recruitment was via exam and would only be announced directly by the Ministry of Defence or by commander-in-chief Vong Pisen.

Hong added that the payment of unofficial fees for seemingly fruitful official positions — a widespread practice that has plagued anti-graft efforts in the public sector — was in itself illicit and something prospective recruits should avoid.

“We cannot recruit armed forces by the depositing of money to become [part of] the armed forces,” he said. “So please do not be fooled.”

Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheath could not be reached.