Charges Against Meas Muth ‘Invalid,’ Defense Lawyers Say

The defense team for former Khmer Rouge navy commander Meas Muth says the decision by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to charge him in absentia with war crimes and crimes against humanity was “invalid,” as only one investigating judge signed off on it.

Ang Udom and Michael Karna­vas, lawyers for Meas Muth, argue in a statement released Friday that International Co-Investigating Judge Mark Harmon’s decision to charge Meas Muth on March 3 without the cooperation of Cambodian Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng should not stand. 

“It is the Defence’s position that such actions cannot be taken by one Co-Investigating Judge acting alone,” the statement says. “The ECCC founding documents envisage joint participation by the Cambodian and international staff.”

“The Co-Investigating Judges are equally mandated to carry out judicial investigations and to charge those against whom they find ‘clear and consistent evidence,’” it continues.

“Co-Investigating Judge Harmon may not unilaterally make fundamental decisions determining the course of the judicial investigation. It is thus not surprising that the arrest warrant was not carried out.”

An arrest warrant for Meas Muth subsequently issued by Judge Harmon was ignored by the judicial police, a failure to take action that is currently being reviewed by the U.N., as it constitutes a government breach of ECCC rules.

The lawyers also point out that Judge Bunleng and former International Co-Investigating Judge Siegfried Blunk agreed in 2011 to close the investigation into Meas Muth without charging him, and called into question Judge Harmon’s credentials.

“Co-Investigating Judge Harmon is, in fact, a longtime former prosecutor from the common law legal tradition (rather than the civil law system, within which the ECCC is based). He never worked as an investigative judge prior to joining the ECCC, and has no past experience in Cambodia,” the statement says.

“His ability to properly assess the evidence and to conduct a neutral judicial investigation are not beyond cavil.”

The lawyers also decry the U.N.’s “deafening silence” when senior government figures, including National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, ignored a court summons in 2009, questioning why the U.N. has been “so quick to involve itself now.”

“Could it be that Co-Investigating Judge Harmon, in making a public power play, is seeking to shift attention to alleged government interference to deflect attention from his own inability to complete the judicial investigation in a timely manner, wasting time and costing the ECCC’s donors hundreds of thousands of dollars? Plausibly, though not necessarily,” they add.

Asked about the claims that the charges were invalid, Khmer Rouge tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said: “I can’t comment on something that may be subject to litigation.”

Mr. Olsen also declined to comment on the defense’s assertions about Judge Harmon, saying “I will not justify that with a comment.”

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