A salt farm owner charged with destroying flooded forest left Kampot provincial prison yesterday after spending almost a month in provisional detention, according to the man’s lawyer.
The Court of Appeal’s investigation chamber in Phnom Penh ordered the conditional release of 69-year-old Pheng Thak based on the fact that the charge relates to land that was the subject of a dispute between Mr Thak and a prominent local businessman, according to a copy of the court’s decision.
The decision also cited Mr Thak’s age, and his stated intention to cooperate with the court’s investigation, as reasons for granting bail.
“If [the court] continued to temporarily detain the charged person and then the result of the final investigation found out that there was no guilt, the detention of this charged person would seriously affect his freedom, which is protected by law,” Presiding Judge Thou Mony said in the Aug 30 ruling.
“I am so happy with the judge and prosecutor’s understanding and releasing of my client,” said Chan Hout, Mr Thak’s lawyer. “My client is a good person. He will not escape, but intends to cooperate with every court procedure.”
Mr Thak’s wife Kim Chheng, 46, said her husband returned home yesterday afternoon.
Kampot Court Director Kam Chhean charged and detained Mr Thak on Aug 9 when he appeared for questioning over allegations that he destroyed 20.78 hectares of flooded forest in the province’s Toek Chhou district. Under the fisheries law of 2006, the charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Mr Thak’s lawyers have said that the charge is baseless, as their client was in fact cutting down trees on his own 24-hectare farm. However part of that farmland is claimed by local businessman Bun Baraing and in December 2009 the provincial court awarded the land to the businessman. The case is now subject to an appeal.
In March, penal police from the Interior Ministry detained Mr Thak and his wife following a complaint from Mr Baraing alleging that the two were building dams and dykes on the disputed land.