Powerful officials are obstructing the Municipal Court’s investigation into an organized racket that trafficks Chinese nationals through Cambodia, the chief prosecutor charged Thursday.
“It is very hard to investigate this case because what I am doing is affected by other officials,” Kann Chhoeun said.
Kann Chhoeun said he made “some progress” at the beginning of the investigation but now faced “many difficulties.” He said his powers of investigation are being weakened because he is affected by “many orders from on high.”
“I could not arrest the [suspects] because they are also government officials…I know what they let us know and we cannot find out what they do not want us to know,” said Kann Chhoeun, adding his voice to the many who have said public servants are involved.
Kann Chhoeun said he is considering resigning from the case because of the obstacles he says are being put in the court’s path.
More than 470 Chinese nationals have been taken into custody by Phnom Penh authorities in the past two months. The most recent haul was Saturday when 226 suspects were rounded up from two villas in Russei Keo district. Top city officials said Wednesday that none of the 226 had passports and will remain in detention.
Government officials including Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng have said Cambodia is being used as a gateway for Chinese attempting to reach Western nations. Diplomats from the US and Australia have said they are watching how the government responds to the revelations.
Municipal Military Police Commander Chhin Chanpor and Kann Chhoeun said the two Russei Keo villas raided Saturday were rented by Nhiek Nary, the wife of a Ministry of Interior police officer.
“The two houses were rented by the same woman, Nhiek Nary. Her husband serves as a police officer at the Ministry of Interior….We know her address but she has already escaped,” said Kann Chhoeun.
National Police Director General Hok Lundy said Thursday that he did not know investigators had information about suspects. The country’s leading police official also said he gave no permission for court prosecutors to investigate the latest case of smuggled Chinese.
“The court cannot investigate the suspect unless I agree that they can handle the documents. I did not sign agreements to empower the prosecutor to investigate yet,” Hok Lundy maintained.
But Kann Chhoeun disputed the police general’s assertions, noting that Cambodian law has been revised and improved since the 1980s.
“I am a court officer and I have the right to carry out investigations. I did not receive order from anyone else to investigate. I went down [to the arrest site] and I have the documents to investigate,” said Kann Chhoeun.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said Thursday that court prosecutors do not need permission from police authorities to carry out investigations.
“Prosecutors think they have no power to implement the law. Only the police and investigating judges think they have the power to start investigations….The prosecutor can do [investigations] if he wants,” said Sok Sam Oeun, adding the courts should implement the law and the police should enforce it.
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