Anticorruption Unit Chairman Om Yentieng said yesterday that Pursat prosecutor Tob Chan Sereivuth, who was arrested Monday, was likely to face “many” additional corruption charges as officials continued to investigate him.
As Mr Yentieng announced the new graft-fighting body’s first official scalp yesterday, he also released investigative findings apparently implicating road-tax officials in overcharging Phnom Penh motorists and said ACU officials were investigating a further 42 cases.
Mr Yentieng confirmed to reporters at a news conference in Phnom Penh that Mr Chan Sereivuth, his brother-in-law Ros Samnang and his bodyguard Chhit Vuthy had been charged Tuesday with corruption, illegal detention and extortion by Pursat Provincial Court.
He added that a fourth suspect, Mr Chan Sereivuth’s brother-in-law, Pich Kong You, 34, was still at large and ACU officials would request that a warrant be issued for his arrest.
ACU legal expert Kheang Seng said yesterday that the suspects each faced 20-years jail, but he did not explain the precise nature of the charges. Under the Untac penal code, extortion is described as a felony that falls under the article of corruption but the two are not separate offenses.
Mr Yentieng said the charges stemmed from a June incident in which Mr Chan Sereivuth allegedly attempted to extort money from two members of a musical performance troupe who were transporting timber from Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district in their truck as they returned from a cancelled performance.
“Tob Chan Sereivuth’s party stopped them and seized the logs. First, they called to extort [$5,000] from the owner of the logs…and then they illegally detained two men from the drama group…and handcuffed them to their car and extorted $1,500 from each of them,” Mr Yentieng claimed.
“We were very careful when we arrested them because these [men] are hit men and they had four guns…. We are very sorry that we could not arrest Mr [Kong] You who committed many cases illegally on [Mr Chan Sereivuth’s] behalf.”
Mr Yentieng added that he expected Mr Chan Sereivuth and his associates to face further charges relating to separate cases involving corruption.
He “is involved in many cases of corruption…and I strongly believe the court will receive more complaints from victims,” he said. “I know there are many cases which Tob Chan Sereivuth committed illegally, making people in Pursat…very angry.”
Mr Yentieng yesterday also released details of an ACU investigation that had found road-tax officers charging 5,000 riel, or about $1.25, for processing paperwork, instead of the official 400 riel fee.
“We are not going to send them to court, but we will send these documents from our investigations to their own tax department” so they are punished by their own departmental rules, he said.
Officials from the Finance Ministry’s tax department could not be reached yesterday afternoon.
Cambodian Defenders Project Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun yesterday welcomed news that the ACU had started to use its powers to crack down on the systemic corruption that he said pervaded Cambodia’s bureaucracy and judiciary.
“At least it is a start, and it is a very big start,” Mr Sam Oeun said. “They did not start with the traffic police, as we see in other countries, they started with a big position.”
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, however, was highly critical of the way in which the arrest of Mr Chan Sereivuth and his associates was carried out.
“The investigators need to be more transparent about who is investigated and why. The public needs to know how someone is picked out to be arrested,” he said, adding that he did not believe that any senior government officials would be arrested unless they fell out of favor with the ruling CPP.
“I expect the investigations to be very selective and chosen from the party’s point of view. It will scare everyone to obey them or face personal” consequences.