Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara made a blistering attack Tuesday on the Municipal Court, charging officials with systematic corruption and bribe taking.
Speaking at the municipality’s monthly meeting to discuss security and public order, Chea Sophara said he had evidence to prove municipal court officials accepted massive bribes to release some of the country’s most dangerous criminals.
“I cannot turn a blind eye to corruption. They [court officials] must be investigated to find out who the people are and they must be charged…I want 100 percent change in the court. They were chosen by the government but they do [corrupt] things,” said Chea Sophara.
Chea Sophara said military police investigators have compiled a list of court officials who received hundreds of thousands of dollars to bury cases or issue verdicts that released criminals.
A copy of the list obtained by The Cambodia Daily shows details of several court cases over a five-month period this year. The cases allegedly earned several municipal court officials a total of $311,000 for releasing suspects.
Chea Sophara said he has sent a letter of protest about the court’s recent release of suspects to King Norodom Sihanouk, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Justice Minister Uk Vithun.
Municipal Court Chief Prosecutor Kann Chheoun said Tuesday he was unaware of the allegations made by Chea Sophara but questioned why they have not been made against individuals.
“If he accuses the court he should accuse [individuals] directly. Say where the problem is, not just say the court is corrupt or the court releases criminals. He must talk directly about the issue,” Kann Chheoun said.
Kann Chheoun also noted that there is not always enough evidence to find suspects guilty and Chea Sophara should contact the Supreme Magistracy Council if he has a complaint.
Two other municipal court officials commented on the allegations Tuesday on the condition that their names not be disclosed.
One official said Chea Sophara’s allegations were unfair because police did not always arrest the right people and it was the court’s duty to determine who is guilty. “If the police were able to arrest all those who committed crimes without defect there would be no need for the courts,” said the official.
The official also criticized Chea Sophara’s wealth. “Chea Sophara calls the Municipal Court corrupt?…How much is Chea Sophara’s salary?” said the official rhetorically, adding the total properties owned by the 200 municipal court officials could not compare to Chea Sophara’s property.
A second court official said Tuesday Chea Sophara should look to municipal police if he was concerned at criminals escaping justice. “The court also accuses municipal policemen who freed offenders and suspects without trial. Why did Chea Sophara not mention them?”
The court official also said it was the judiciary’s right to decide guilt or innocence. “The court has two rights [to imprison or free], but if Chea Sophara has found that the court is wrong, he can complain to the Supreme Council of the Magistracy over the court. It can find out who is right and who is wrong,” he said.
During Tuesday’s municipal meeting, Chea Sophara said he has done just that.
He said he has sent a letter of protest about the Municipal Court’s recent release of 66 suspects of serious crimes to King Sihanouk, the president of the judiciary’s highest governing body. The 66 were released during the period between Nov 1 and Nov 17, he said.
He said those released were arrested for armed robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking, murder and rape.
“I am not afraid to publicize this list…One thing I can do if the court tries people wrongly is maybe I can gather the people to try the court,” said Chea Sophara.
“I don’t condemn the institution [of the court] but I condemn the people who work for the institution,” said Chea Sophara.
He added that the courts, like governments or offices of the mayor, must be changed periodically.
“Why not the court who have gained power since the 1980s until 1999 and have never been changed…They must be changed because of inability.”
Ty Neng, a member of the nine-person Supreme Council of the Magistracy, said Tuesday he had not yet received the municipality’s letter and could make no comment on the allegations.
According to a copy of the letter dated Nov 29, the governor has requested the Supreme Council of the Magistracy to instruct municipal court officials to work with police in compiling correct trial documentation to prevent release on technicalities.
The municipal court is also asked to provide names of “culprits” released by the courts to allow police to monitor their activities.
In the interest of “justice and transparency” the letter also calls for a “double-check on cases” before offenders are released.
Seng Vanna, municipal police chief of staff, said at the municipality meeting Tuesday that crime figures in Phnom Penh were slightly down from last year’s figures but repeat offenders are a major problem.
“We are arresting the same old offenders,” said Seng Vanna.
(Additional reporting by Kimsan Chantara)