Secretary of State for Social Affairs Ahmad Yahya has been removed from his post by royal decree amid allegations he illegally sent a Khmer-Muslim woman to work in Saudi Arabia 12 years ago.
Ministry spokesman Toch Channy said the case had nothing to do with Mr Yahya’s removal and was a private matter, but added the government had the right to withdraw him from his post if he had committed any crime.
According to the royal decree signed by acting head of state Say Chhum on Friday, Mr Yahya was to be sacked with immediate effect.
The woman in the Saudi Arabia case was identified as Math Sanas, 28, who was rescued after pleading for help in a viral Facebook video.
Datuk Othsman Hassan, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, went to pick her up at Phnom Penh International Airport on Tuesday last week.
Ms Sanas, originally from Kampong Thom’s Baray district, said at the airport that she went to work as a maid in Saudi Arabia when she was 16, through a company which had since changed its name.
When asked by reporters about the case of Ms Sanas, Mr Yahya said: “I sent her to work there but she applied for her passport by herself.”
He said he did not know she was 16, because her birth certificate said she was 18.
“If I have made a mistake, the Interior Ministry has also made a mistake, because they supplied her passport,” he said.
In August last year, Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Mr Yahya guilty of defaming Mr Hassan, his counterpart at the Labour Ministry.
The court ordered Mr Yahya to pay 100 million riel compensation (about $24,000) to Mr Hassan, who had sought $1 million from him. Mr Yahya was also ordered to pay a fine of 5 million riel ($1,200) to the state.
Mr Yahya, who defected to the ruling party from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in 2008, said he was expecting to be removed from his secretary of state position soon because he was approaching retirement age.
When asked if his dismissal was linked to the dispute with Mr Hassan, Mr Yahya said he did not know, but added: “Othsman Hassan is my enemy.”
He added he had heard a rumour he would be removed from his post through a driver of Mr Hassan several days ago.
“Allah is with me and I am still happy,” Mr Yahya said, thanking Prime Minister Hun Sen for his help in the past.
Mr Hassan could not be reached for comment but said last month that the Ministry of Labour always urges Cambodians wanting to work abroad to avoid brokers or illegal companies.
The Foreign Ministry says it helped repatriate more than 450 Cambodian workers in the first six months of this year.