The Court of Appeal will hear the case of former Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith, who was convicted for shooting and injuring three garment workers but remains at large, at the end of this month, a court official said Wednesday.
Although the Svay Rieng Provincial Court sentenced the ex-governor to 18 months in jail in June and ordered his immediate arrest, authorities have failed to arrest him and his whereabouts are currently unknown.
The provincial court found Chhouk Bundith guilty after the Appeal Court ordered a reinvestigation into the case earlier this year. After the verdict, Chhouk Bundith’s lawyers filed an appeal in July.
“We have planned to schedule the hearing of the case at the end of this month,” presiding Judge Taing Sunlay said.
Despite an arrest warrant already existing for Chhouk Bundith, Interior Minister Sar Kheng last week sent a letter to the National Police ordering the authorities to find and arrest the former governor, who was sentenced for unintentionally causing injuries when he opened fire into a crowd of workers during a protest in February 2012.
Speaking at a ceremony to recognize riot and traffic police officers for their security efforts during the election period, Mr. Kheng said Wednesday that police were unaware of the criminal’s location.
“We do not know where Chhouk Bundith is. If we knew, we would arrest him,” Mr. Kheng said.
But union members and human rights workers said the government was not trying hard enough to arrest Chhouk Bundith.
“It speaks to itself that there’s been a total lack of seriousness on the government’s part to act on this when the Ministry of Interior feels that they have to intervene at this moment,” said Dave Welsh, country head of the Solidarity Center, an international labor rights group.
Ath Thon, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, claimed that Mr. Kheng is only publicly pushing for an arrest now because of the losses the CPP suffered in the July election.
“It is to show that the government is concerned about reforms,” Mr. Thon said. “After the recent election…the CPP is maybe trying to do their best for this case.”
Moeun Tola, head of the labor program for the Community Legal Education Center—which provided the three victims with legal aid—said Mr. Kheng’s announcement also highlights the ineffectiveness of the judicial system.
“[The court’s verdict] should be enough for the police to arrest him since the arrest warrant was put out,” Mr. Tola said. “It’s clear to us that [Mr. Kheng’s announcement] is for their political propaganda, and let’s see if Chhouk Bundith will be arrested.”