Tob Chan Sereivuth convicted on extortion, illegal detention charges
Pursat Provincial Court yesterday convicted former prosecutor Tob Chan Sereivuth of extortion and illegal detention, sentencing him to 19 years in jail in the first case brought by the country’s nascent Anticorruption Unit.
Acting provincial prosecutor You Yinny said Judge Duch Chantha had ruled that Mr Chan Sereivuth’s prison term began Nov 29, the day of his arrest.
Mr Chan Sereivuth and two of his bodyguards were arrested that day for a June incident in which the former prosecutor detained and attempted to extort money from a musical troupe transporting timber.
Mr Yinny said the court had also convicted the bodyguards, Ros Samnang and Chhit Vuthy, of extortion and sentenced them to 15 years and 16 years in jail, respectively. He said a third bodyguard who remained at large—Pich Kong You, Mr Chan Sereivuth’s brother-in-law—was convicted of extortion and illegal detention in absentia and sentenced to 18 years.
All four were ordered to pay a total compensation of 4 million riel, or about $1,000, to the plaintiff, whose identity Mr Yinny said he could not recall.
Defense lawyer Than Borey called the decision “unacceptable.”
“As one of the defense lawyers, I want to see my clients found not guilty, because the jail sentences are too much for my clients,” he said. “This verdict is not acceptable and we defense lawyers will discuss with our clients whether to submit an appeal.”
Mr Yinny, the acting prosecutor, welcomed the court’s decision.
“From my point of view, I don’t want to criticize the convict [Mr Chan Sereivuth] and his fellows, but the sentence is fair because they did commit the crimes,” he said.
Chan Soveth, chief monitor for the human rights group Adhoc, said he was also pleased, if taken off guard, by the rulings.
“The announcement of the verdict today was a complete surprise because we never expected such a powerful person in the court system to be convicted and sentenced to 19 years in jail,” he said.
But he was also troubled by the fact that the court did not follow through on the corruption allegations Mr Chan Sereivuth was also arrested for, allegations that were never detailed.
“We support and admire the court and authorities for their commitment to eliminating extortion and corruption but we wonder why he didn’t face corruption charges,” he said. “Maybe the court will raise those charges in another case.”
In February 2009, Mr Chan Sereivuth was allegedly involved in a land dispute that was mysteriously transferred to his court from Banteay Meanchey province, where he used to be a judge.
Before his arrest in November, Mr Chan Sereivuth was the subject of a complaint alleging that he had demanded money from a man accused of murder to seek the dropping of the charges by another court.
Mr Yinny said he did not know whether Mr Chan Sereivuth would face more charges in the future.
Om Yentieng, head of the anticorruption unit, and spokesman Keo Remy declined to comment.