A woman charged by the court but later cleared of cheating villagers out of more than $100,000 is demanding that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court return her $20,000 bail deposit, which she claims has vanished.
Lak Sokthyna, director of her own local organization, the Stung Meanchey Squatter Development Association, was originally accused of cheating 1,097 squatter families out of the money but released on Oct 4, 2004 after depositing $20,000 bail money on the orders of municipal court judge Thong Ol.
Lak Sokthyna said that she was acquitted by Judge Ke Sakhorn when the case eventually went to trial last month.
On Friday, however, Lak Sokthyna said that she went to collect her bail deposit from the court but was told by Thong Ol’s former court clerk, Roth Setha, that the money was gone.
“I want my bail money back because I need to run my organization,” she said.
Contacted Monday, Roth Setha said that Thong Ol had ordered him to give the $20,000 bail deposit to about 1,000 Meanchey district villagers who had come to the court at the time to protest over their alleged cheating by Lak Sokthyna. “The court didn’t make any money,” Roth Setha added.
Judge Thong Ol, who is now based at Kompong Cham Provincial Court and is a reserve co-investigating judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Heng Bophea, the municipal court’s chief clerk for bail money, said by telephone that Thong Ol should not be held responsible for the missing bail money as it was his clerk, Roth Setha, who had spent it.
In further defense of the missing bail money, Roth Setha claimed that April’s acquittal of Lam Sokthyna pertained to a different court case, and not the case for which she had been granted bail. Lak Sokthyna and her lawyer, Uk Phourik, denied the clerk’s claim.
Judge Ke Sakhorn, who acquitted Lak Sokthyna last month, said he wasn’t sure what case the bail money pertained to, but added that as long as the money was spent to resolve the case, “It is not a problem.”
Uk Phourik said that he would file a complaint to get Lak Sokthyna’s money back.
“We do not know whether the court has the money or not, but my client’s bail money must be returned,” he said.