A Cambodian court may on China’s behalf question a Frenchman currently being held over his links to a Chinese political scandal and a murder investigation, an Interior Ministry official said yesterday.
Patrick Henri Devillers, 52, was taken into custody at a restaurant in Phnom Penh on June 13 following a request from China. Mr. Devillers has been linked to disgraced politician Bo Xilai and his wife, Gu Kailai, who is accused of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood in November.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, reiterated that there are no plans to extradite Mr. Devillers, but that Cambodia could question him on China’s behalf.
“It is called a commission rogatoire internationale [letter rogatory]. Cambodia can ask him the question on behalf of China. That is all I can tell you,” Lt. Gen. Sopheak said.
A letter rogatory is a request from a court in one country to a foreign court for judicial assistance.
“He’s not imprisoned, just under the immigration department,” Lt. Gen. Sopheak said, adding that there was a 60-day limit on his detention, as set out in the extradition agreement between Cambodia and China.
“What I can say is that it is up to him. It is up to Patrick himself. Whether he wants to go to China, it is up to him to decide. He still has the full right of self-determination,” he said.
Sam Pracheameanith, chief of Cabinet at the Ministry of Justice, said that the ministry had not received any such request from China, or evidence of Mr. Devillers’ involvement in crimes.
Judicial assistance provided under a letter rogatory can take the form of a court taking evidence from a witness to aid a foreign court’s investigation. This would allow Mr. Devillers, who China had originally requested be extradited to the country, to remain in Cambodia, with a Cambodian court questioning him and producing a deposition for the Chinese courts.
Officials had previously suggested that a Chinese judge could come to Cambodia to question Mr. Devillers.
Mr. Devillers is known to have had a personal and business relationship with Ms. Gu, appearing alongside her as a listed director of British-registered company Adad Ltd., which was dissolved in 2003.
Late last month, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that he thought Mr. Devillers’ role in the affair was in handling money for Ms. Gu. Media reports have said that Ms. Gu, who is currently in detention in China, confessed to ordering Neil Heywood’s murder because he threatened to reveal a scheme in which he assisted her in moving ill-gotten money out of China.
Mr. Bo is also reportedly detained in China and under investigation for unspecified disciplinary violations.
According to a report in the Financial Times last month, between 2003 and 2010, Mr. Devillers intermittently occupied an upmarket London apartment now worth more than $2.3 million, which he helped Mr. Bo’s family to buy.
Mr. Devillers has lived in Cambodia for at least five years and has a Cambodian partner and children.
(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)