Oknha Duong Ngeap took $120,000 per Cambodian citizenship for Chinese and Taiwanese clients, he told the Phnom Penh court on Thursday, but ran into trouble during Covid-19 leading to his arrest for fraud and forgery.
Ngeap walked the municipal courthouse unhandcuffed on Thursday morning greeting family members, with a prison guard holding a water bottle for him. The court has held Ngeap, an official with the Interior Ministry, in pre-trial detention at PJ prison since February.
The notorious tycoon — whose son, Duong Chhay, has also made waves for being caught on CCTV assaulting his wife and for a prominent family spat — is on trial for fraud for being unable to refund a Taiwanese client, as well as forging public documents over allegedly producing fake national ID cards.
The ID-card forgery case was heard on Thursday, but the complaint against him was dropped after the client agreed it was Ngeap’s nephew who was likely responsible. But during the hearing, Ngeap nevertheless discussed his citizenship business, saying money was handed to Interior Ministry officials and his company took home less than 10% of the total.
His family members, including Chhay and Ngeap’s wife — glittering with jewels and a thick gold necklace — attended the trial as it got off to a rocky start.
“This is chaos. People who have no involvement in the case have no right to participate in this hearing,” said presiding judge Sin Sovannarath, as he sifted through case documents.
He singled out lawyer Mey Vandy, who was present believing he would defend Ngeap. But the judge held a document from Ngeap invalidating Vandy’s representation.
Vandy spoke out. “I will leave,” the invalidated lawyer said. “This is regrettable. I just found out that he has removed me, that he does not permit me, as I am fulfilling my duty. He needed me and asked me to give a thumbprint but he did not even tell me that it was to remove me, so I didn’t know.” The lawyer walked off angrily.
The trial was previously postponed three times, including earlier this month when none of Ngeap’s 12 lawyers appeared for a hearing.
On Thursday, the judge outlined how the case began in 2017, when Ngeap told plaintiff Huang Hsiao Hsien and three others that he could get them Cambodian citizenship for $120,000 each. He took $50,000 from each client as down payment.
Ngeap told the court he had not completed the citizenship process for them despite handing some money to police at the Interior Ministry. The process was delayed because authorities required the clients present, but they were unable to come.
“I have done this so many times,” Ngeap said. “They paid $120,000 to get citizenship, and I’ve also helped many Taiwanese get citizenship.”
It usually took 4-6 months to go through the process, and his company earned about $5,000-$10,000 from the process.
“We have done it so many times since Mr. Sok An was still alive,” he said, referring to the late minister for the Council of Ministers, who died in 2017.
But the process stalled this time, and he had been unable to refund Huang as his business was struggling through Covid-19, he said.
Ngeap added that he had known Huang since 1995, and “we are business partners and I don’t know why he complained against me.”
As the trial moved onto discussing the false ID cards, Huang said Ngeap’s nephew and co-defendant Duong Meng Hong had promised four Cambodian ID cards for $14,000, but had come back with four odd-looking cards all with the same identification number. Meng Hong had then produced three more with different numbers, but when Huang attempted to buy land with it, a landowner said they were fake.
Ngeap said he was not involved in the transaction.
Huang said he had complained against both Meng Hong and Ngeap because he didn’t know whom he should file his lawsuit against, and said he would withdraw the complaint against Ngeap.
Asked by Meng Hong’s lawyer if he would also drop the complaint against the nephew, Huang said he would not say.
The trial is set to continue, moving onto the fraud charge against Ngeap, though a date has not yet been set.