Each morning, Municipal Court Chief Prosecutor Ouk Savouth
arrives at work in one of two sport utility vehicles, a Toyota Prado or a Toyota Land Cruiser.
His parking space abuts SUVs owned by other senior court officials on the opposite side of the building from where Yet Chakriya, deputy prosecutor, parks his black Mercedes Benz.
In a Thursday interview, Ouk Savouth said his government salary is just over $400 per month.
“Amongst people who play golf, I’m the one who’s very poor,” he said.
Although most senior court officials are rich, corruption is not generally a problem in the court, Ouk Savouth said.
Educated in Russia, Ouk Savouth attributed his wealth to marriages to wealthy women and private business interests, including a past enterprise in stockpiling hats from Russia to sell to Cambodian traders and exporting rubber.
Other court officials who appear rich are also married to successful businesswomen, he maintained.
On Wednesday, Municipal Police Commissioner Heng Pov called for the punishment of four Municipal Court officials—including two judges, Kong Sarith and Ham Mengse, and deputy prosecutors Siem Sok Aun and Khut Sopheang—accusing them of taking bribes in exchange for the release of six suspected criminals.
Siem Sok Aun denied the charge Wednesday, saying he would have sold his old car and bought a new one if he had received the bribe money he was alleged to have taken.
But one senior Municipal Court official said Thursday that many judges do award court victories to the richest party.
“For big law suits, the rich people win and give a gift to the judges for winning the case,” the court official said on condition of anonymity.
Although the court keeps records of what decisions are made by which judges, they are not available to the public, he said.
Every judge’s decision has to be approved by Ouk Savouth, he added.
One foreign legal expert said Thursday that the four court officials named in public by Heng Pov may have been singled out due to a personal dispute with the police.
The move against the four court officials is a positive step, although ideally any case against them would be dealt with by the Supreme Council of Magistracy or the Ministry of Justice rather than the police, said Lao Mong Hay of the Center for Social Development.
Police appear to have been frustrated with the courts for throwing out cases after police have gathered adequate evidence, he said.
But Lao Mong Hay added that it would be appropriate to examine other court officials, including the Appeals Court official who acquitted Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew Nhim Sophea in August.
“The public is entitled to say [the move against the four] is not fair because there could be others,” he said.