As part of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s “iron fist” crackdown on corruption in the courts, the Supreme Council of Magistracy has suspended two Phnom Penh judges suspected of releasing criminal suspects in exchange for bribes, a Ministry of Justice official said Sunday.
Justice Secretary of State Tuot Lux said the Supreme Council informed his ministry of its rare decision to suspend the two municipal court judges in a letter late last week. But he declined to reveal the judges’ names “to protect the rights of the individuals.”
“The two judges were suspended temporarily by the Council of Magistracy for investigation,” Tuot Lux said.
“It is a temporary measure to find out whether there are irregularities or not,” he said, adding that his ministry had received 274 cases in which “irregularities”—or bribes—occurred at the courts.
“If there are no irregularities [in the case of the two suspended judges], they can restart their work,” he said.
Tuot Lux said the suspension of the two municipal court judges paves the way for the Battambang Provincial Court to investigate them.
In early March, Phnom Penh Municipal Court judges Kong Sarith and Ham Mengse, along with deputy prosecutors Khut Sopheang and Siem Sok Aun, were named by municipal police Chief Heng Pov for their alleged involvement in the illegal release of suspected criminals.
The accusations against them prompted Hun Sen to vow to reform the judiciary with an “iron fist,” and the Battambang Court was appointed to investigate the four court officials.
Though the deputy prosecutors, Khut Sopheang and Siem Sok Aun, were promptly suspended, Ham Mengse and Kong Sarith remained on the job.
Calls to Ham Mengse were unsuccessful Sunday.
Reached by phone on Sunday, Kong Sarith declined to say whether he and Ham Mengse were the two judges the Supreme Council of Magistracy suspended.
“It is very secret work,” Kong Sarith said. “I can’t talk about it. I don’t have any comment.”
Battambang Chief Prosecutor Yam Yet said Sunday that he had not heard the news of the suspensions and thus could not confirm the identity of the suspended judges.
“I have not received any information about it,” he said, adding that he will look into the matter today.
Police Chief Heng Pov maintained on Sunday that there was enough evidence to prosecute Kong Sarith, Ham Mengse and the two deputy prosecutors.
“The evidence to prosecute is more than enough,” he said, adding that the case against the four is based on the release of criminal suspects, despite police evidence provided to the court.
“I am happy to testify in the trial if invited,” Heng Pov added.