Reputed Taiwanese gangster Chen Chi-li walked out of Phnom Penh Municipal Court a free man Friday after Judge Ya Sakhon gave him a three-year suspended sentence and five years of parole for possession of illegal weapons.
A smiling Chen shook hands with journalists and cameramen who swarmed the court bench, peppering him with questions in English and Mandarin Chinese.
“I am very happy at the court’s decision,” Chen Chi-li said in Chinese outside the courtroom before he was returned to Military Police headquarters for processing. “I will stay in Cambodia for business, but first I will go to Taiwan to see my father, who is sick. I will then return to Cambodia and continue my business.”
Chen had also been accused of organizing an armed group and possessing a diplomatic license plate, which prosecutors said had been bought from the North Korean embassy. Judge Ya Sakhon dropped those charges.
As he read his verdict, the judge said Chen had never disturbed Cambodia’s security. He pointed out that Chen had donated to the Cambodian Red Cross and had helped villagers in the countryside.
At the time of his arrest in a combined municipal and military police raid in July 2000, Chen held the honorary Cambodian title of Okhna, bestowed upon civilians who donate generously to government officials and projects. He was also listed as an adviser to Senate President Chea Sim.
“He helped the Cambodian government,” the judge said.
After hearing a translation of the verdict from Khmer to Chinese, Chen at first looked shocked. The confused translator had apparently misunderstood the meaning of a suspended sentence and told Chen he would be serving three years in prison.
Lawyer Som Chandyna stepped in to explain, and Chen quickly looked relieved.
Also freed Friday were Taiwanese national Lia Mong In, 28, and mainland Chinese national Quong Ou Quing, 45. Both men were associates of Chen and had been arrested at Chen’s large Tuol Kok district home in the July 2000 raid.
Lia Mong In had been charged with possession of illegal weapons and possessing a diplomatic license plate. He was given a three-year suspended sentence and five years of parole.
Quong Ou Quing was charged with possession of illegal weapons and was given a 13-month sentence—the amount of time he spent in jail awaiting trial.
The three men arrived at the court just before 8 am in the back of a green armored military police Land Rover.
Lia Mong In told the court that Nhem Chandara, the brother-in-law of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ambassador to Burma, gave Chen five bodyguards from the government’s bodyguard unit in 1997. Chen always had at least two bodyguards with him, he said.
Lia Mong In said he worked with Chen in Taiwan and came to Cambodia in 1996 at Chen’s request.
“He was sick and he needed me to take care of him,” he said.
Chen later told the court that he had cancer. Throughout the proceedings he was allowed to sit in a chair while the other two defendants stood.
Chen said he came to Cambodia for business and because he believed that the living was easy. He said the weapons and the bodyguards were necessary because there were so many robberies and kidnappings when he moved here.
Chen’s arrest was prompted by a television interview he gave last year to a Taiwanese film crew, in which he complained about Cambodia’s lack of security and displayed weapons in his home. The interview angered Cambodian officials.
Chen, believed to be the spiritual leader of the 10,000 worldwide members of the Bamboo Union triad, served six years in prison in Taiwan. He fled to Cambodia in 1996 and is reportedly still wanted in Taiwan for separate charges.
On Friday, Chen denied ordering the shooting death of the president of the Taiwanese Business Association, which took place in Tuol Kok just a few weeks before his arrest.
“I did not come here to commit any crime,” Chen told the court. “I came here to do business….I did not receive any order from Taiwan to operate in Cambodia. I did not receive an order from anyone at all.”
Som Chandyna said Chen’s release is good for ethnic Chinese investors, who he said had suffered during Chen’s 13 months in jail. “He is the dean of businessmen. Many businessmen listen to him,” he said.