Cambodia’s often-criticized postal system was blamed Tuesday for prolonging the freedom of former Khmer Rouge chief Chhouk Rin, who was recently sentenced to life in prison for the 1994 kidnapping and slaying of three Western tourists.
Chhouk Rin was absent from his trial last month at the Appeals Court of Phnom Penh. The court handed him the hefty sentence for the slaying of three backpackers from Australia, Britain and France.
However, the official court verdict informing Chhouk Rin that he will spend the rest of his life in prison is either lost or delayed in the post, Appeals Court Judge Samrith Sophal said on Tuesday.
“We made the verdict and sent it out…about one or two weeks ago,” Samrith Sophal said.
“We also informed the British and Australian representatives. But sending out verdicts by the post office is a difficult job. They are always late,” he said. “To know if the accused will get it or not, that is a [question] that I do not know.”
An official at the Australian Embassy said on Tuesday that a clerk at the Appeals Court informed them that Chhouk Rin and his lawyer Puth Theavy were only sent the official verdict notification last Thursday.
The recent Pchum Ben holiday was probably responsible for the postal delay, the clerk told the embassy, according to the embassy official, who also said the clerk told her neither embassy would get a separate notification.
Chhouk Rin was the second former Khmer Rouge chief convicted for the 1994 train attack during which 13 Cambodians were killed and Australian David Wilson, 29, Briton Mark Slater, 28, and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, 27, were taken hostage and later executed.
Reportedly still in hiding at his former rebel base at Phnom Voar in Kampot province, Chhouk Rin has vehemently denied any part in the killings and thousands of local supporters reportedly have signed a petition attesting to his innocence.
Chhouk Rin could not be contacted for comment on Tuesday, but he has repeatedly criticized the Appeals Court judgment.
His lawyer Puth Theavy said on Tuesday that he had not yet received formal notification of his client’s sentence, which he plans to challenge once it arrives.
“If it is later and later, that would be better for my client who is now free. If it takes two or three years to inform him, that would be good,” Puth Theavy said.
Once the official documents arrive, Puth Theavy said he will demand a re-trial of the Appeals Court verdict that overturned Chhouk Rin’s acquittal by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2000 for the killings.
If the Appeals Court fails to grant a re-trial, Puth Theavy has two months to appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court.
Last month, the Supreme Court threw out the final appeal of Chhouk Rin’s military superior on Phnom Voar, Nuon Paet, who was sentenced to life in prison for the ambush and killings.
Sam Bith, former Khmer Rouge regional commander of the Kampot area, was arrested in May and is currently jailed on the outskirts of Phnom Penh awaiting trial for the same crime.