The Court of Appeal yesterday heard the case of disgraced former Pursat Provincial Court prosecutor Tob Chan Sereivuth who was sentenced last year to 19 years in prison after being convicted of extortion and illegal detention.
Mr. Chan Sereivuth and two of his bodyguards were arrested in November 2010, after an investigation by the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) found that the prosecutor and his men had illegally detained people and attempted to extort money in return for their release. He, along with bodyguards Ros Samnang and Chhit Vuthy were appealing sentences of 19, 15, and 16 years, respectively. All three said in court yesterday that they are innocent.
Speaking with reporters outside the court following yesterday’s hearing, a visibly upset Mr. Chan Sereivuth continued to vigorously maintain his innocence.
“I can swear I did not commit the crime. If I did it, I would die, my children would die, my wife would die; I swear I did not do it,” he said.
“The Forestry Administration officers committed the crime. Why didn’t the ACU take action to arrest them?” he asked, referring to members of the Pursat forestry department who initially stopped the people that Mr. Chan Sereivuth detained.
One of the forestry officials, Ry Lay, spoke in court yesterday as a witness for the prosecution. Mr. Ly recounted how he received a tip-off from the brother-in-law of Mr. Chan Sereivuth, who then accompanied the forestry officials during their raid and proceeded to take command of the operation, ordering that two men, suspected of transporting timber, be handcuffed and brought into the Forestry Administration office, where they were held overnight while a bribe for their release was negotiated.
Thol Sokna, one of the two men detained and from whom money was extorted, told the court that Mr. Chan Sereivuth’s associates detained them for a day while the negotiations took place. He also called for compensation of $1,500—the amount Mr. Sokna’s mother had to wire to the prosecutor’s associates for his release.
Kea Chhay, a defense lawyer for Mr. Chan Sereivuth asked the court to drop all charges and release his client, while prosecutor Nget Sarath requested the charges be upheld and an additional charge of kidnapping be brought against the former prosecutor.
The court is expected to deliver its decision on March 14.