The Women’s Media Center of Cambodia (WMC) held a press conference on Monday afternoon to voice their outrage over the release of Sambun Yany, a former chief finance officer briefly imprisoned for stealing more than $200,000 of the organization’s funds.
Yany, 66, was given a two year prison sentence in December last year by the Supreme Court, though she had been on the run since WMC filed complaints against her in 2019.
Yany was only arrested by police on the morning of August 24 in Phnom Penh. But she was released the next day.
The Phnom Penh municipal court, which ordered Yany’s release, issued a press statement on Sunday noting that women 65 years or older with physical illness cannot be imprisoned, citing article 531 of the code of criminal procedure.
The Women’s Media Center (WMC), which advocates for women in media and produces education stories, requested authorities reconsider Yany’s release.
“If this injustice happens, it is a bad example for our [Cambodia] justice system,” said Ung Chanthol, the center’s executive director.
Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said the ministry’s decision followed the law and that Yany still carried a suspended sentence.
“The court from the lowest to the highest of the three levels had suspended the sentence, not canceled the suspension,” Malin said. “By law, detention is not allowed, while the inmates also showed a willingness to pay in installments.”
Yany, a mother of three, worked at the center for more than 10 years and was caught stealing money in 2016 after the organization audited its finances.
The organization’s leadership did not immediately file a legal complaint against Yany because they were concerned with the impact on the organization’s reputation and Yany said she would repay them. She paid back $50,000 but then disappeared within a year, according to Hang Samphors, a former radio station manager who left the organization last year.
Ros Kong, staff representative and radio executive producer at WMC, said the organization faced a financial crisis in 2016 and had to reduce its staff from 80 people to 10 people.
“We worked without pay, some for up to six months, including me, because we ran out of money,” Kong said.
Kong said that Yany’s theft not only impacted the staff and their families but also donors and local partners. He added that the center was less able to produce education stories to benefit society, indirectly impacting many people.
He explained that Yany was able to easily steal money from the organization because only her and the executive director at the time, Chea Sundanet, had the ability to withdraw funds. (Sundanet has not faced charges)
“In her confession, she [Yany] said that she was the only one who stole,” Kong said.
Yany could not be reached for comment.
Kong said his organization will continue to seek for Yany to serve time in prison, appealing to the Constitutional Council and other government branches.
“If the courts continue to release perpetrators, we will not stop because we think this is an injustice,” he added. In the event Yany is unable to repay, “we will continue to sue her child, who is obliged to pay the debt on behalf of the mother.”