Municipal Court officials reacted angrily Wednesday to Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara’s claims of bribe taking among its members, with at least one prosecutor pledging to file a complaint against those who made the allegations.
Nget Sarath, municipal court deputy chief prosecutor, said Wednesday that a document listing him as one of seven court officials who received a total of $311,000 in bribes was flawed.
The document, provided by Chea Sophara Tuesday based on a military police investigation, charges Nget Sarath with accepting a $15,000 bribe in a kidnapping case last August. “I will file a complaint against the discreditors….I was not involved in the case [in question],” Nget Sarath said.
Nget Sarath also said municipal court officials will further scrutinize Chea Sophara’s claims. “A committee in the municipal court is doing an investigation, and we will react to the reports,” said Nget Sarath.
However, Chea Sophara remained unrepentant Wednesday about his unprecedented attack on one of the Cambodia’s most powerful institutions.
“The people are happy because they know the same things about the court [corruption]. But they are small people and cannot talk out. They are afraid but I can’t remain silent on this situation,” he said. “This is a very bad thing. It is not just one or two [court] officials. The people are very angry.”
According to Chea Sophara, the Supreme Council of the Magistracy will take about two day to reply to his letter outlining the Municipal Court’s failure to detain criminals and the release in a 17-day period last month of 66 people arrested for serious crimes including murder, kidnapping, armed robbery and rape.
“I am waiting for their reply and also a reply from the prime minister and deputy prime minister,” said Chea Sophara, who is seeking a total change in court staff.
One court official—on the condition of anonymity—also denied the document’s validity Wednesday. He noted that allegations court officials had taken a total of $27,500 in return for releasing a suspected kidnapper and an accused robber were incorrect.
“According to the report, about 20 offenders were released by the Phnom Penh court after paying $311,000 in bribes. It is exaggerated. For example two criminals, Kok Ly and Mean Ry, are now in T3 prison so the report is not true,” said the court official.
However, T3 Prison Director Ky Bunsron refuted the court official’s claim Wednesday, noting that neither Kok Ly nor Mean Ry had ever been in the prison.
Kuy Bunsron did note that two other criminals mentioned on the bribe list were currently detained in T3 prison.
A second municipal court official, also on the condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that if proof exists that court officials are corrupt then they should be dismissed. Otherwise, he said, “Bring Chea Sophara to court.”
The official also said the municipality could do as it wished as he was not worried by the municipality’s claims. Other court officials on the list couldn’t be reached for comment.
Praising Chea Sophara’s decision to tackle the country’s corrupt legal establishment, a senior government legal adviser warned Wednesday that the governor’s campaign against corrupt court officials was also a political campaign fraught with risk if key government figures do not back him.
“I think he is a very courageous man. We need someone who can solve the problem and take care of the situation….To make changes [in the courts] like this is politically driven, not technically driven. This is politically driven so we must wait for the reaction. He can win or he can lose,” said the government’s legal adviser.
But Chea Sophara’s frontal assault with bribery allegations against court officials could backfire, he warned.
“The objective is very good, very respectful but the way he chooses has many risks….The problem is politics. If he is supported by the government he can move but if not there will be many problems.”