A top municipal court official said Thursday that bail will not be granted to Chea Rithy, who was arrested in mid-February for allegedly operating a scam to steal electricity worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from Electricite du Cambodge.
“This is a very serious case and that makes it impossible to let him out,” said Phnom Penh Municipal Court Director Sor Sophary.
Also Thursday, Khun Haing, minister of the Ministry of Parliamentary Relations and Inspections, confirmed his ministry will begin an investigation Monday into allegations of corruption at the state owned utility. Funcinpec lawmaker Sam Ram Sek called for the investigation in a Feb 24 letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Sor Sophary, recently appointed Municipal Court director and the investigating judge in the Chea Rithy case, said Thursday that the severe charges facing Chea Rithy ruled out the possibility of a pre-trial release.
Stealing electricity from EdC constitutes theft of government property which carries a prison sentence of one to five years, said Municipal Court Prosecutor Uk Savuth.
Municipal Judicial Police Chief Lek Vannak agreed Thursday that the weight of evidence against Chea Rithy should rule out the possibility of bail.
“Police have enough evidence in this power-stealing issue including videotape, documents and witnesses,” said Lek Vannak.
However, Som Chan Dyna, the lawyer representing Chea Rithy, said Thursday that he will appeal the decision not to release his client and lodge a complaint against Lek Vannak for unlawful police work conducted during the arrest of Chea Rithy.
“[Lek Vannak’s] work did not respect the law,” said Som Chan Dyna, claiming that the police chief targeted his client to settle a personal score with a staff member at EdC.
Chea Rithy and two business partners, Chea Pearum and Mean Kea, were jailed Feb 16 for allegedly stealing EdC electricity and reselling it for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The three are currently detained in PJ prison, Prison Director Seng Vanna said Thursday.
Three officials at EdC have also been suspended, pending the results of an internal investigation at EdC.
Khun Haing said six investigators will go to EdC Monday morning to launch his ministry’s investigation.
The investigation will last between one and two months and the findings will be reported back to Hun Sen, said Khun Haing.
“We will gather information for the prime minister and it will be up to him what should be done,” said Khun Haing.
Sam Ram Sek said Thursday that only an independent body would be able to uncover who exactly is involved in the theft.
“They tried to set up EdC people to investigate their own. But anywhere in the world, if you’re in the same group of people you are investigating….it is not fair. You have to have a different group do the inspection,” he said.
Sam Ram Sek charged that there are as many as three other electricity-stealing scams of the same size as Chea Rithy’s.
Those who stole the state’s electricity are rumored to have the support of very powerful people, said Sam Ram Sek, who praised the prime minister and Lek Vannak for finally cracking down on the scams.