Disgraced Prosecutor Claims Ignorance of Extortion Racket

Disgraced former Pursat Provincial Court prosecutor Tob Chan Sereivuth, 58, appealed for his release from a 19-year-prison sentence on corruption charges at the Su­preme Court on Friday, arguing that he was an innocent man and had been lured into making an incriminating statement by the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) in 2010.

Tob Chan Sereivuth at the Supreme Court on Friday (Siv Channa)
Tob Chan Sereivuth at the Supreme Court on Friday (Siv Channa)

Mr. Chan Sereivuth and two bodyguards were arrested in 2010 after an investigation by the ACU uncovered a vast web of corruption perpetrated by the court prosecutor and his armed guards, including the forced detention of people who would be threatened with prosecution unless they paid bribes to be freed.

Mr. Chan Sereivuth was convicted and sentenced to 19 years in prison and his bodyguards Ros Samnang and Chhit Vuthy were jailed for 15 and 16 years respectively. A third bodyguard, Mr. Chan Sereivuth’s brother-in-law, Pich Kong You, was sentenced in absentia to 18 years in jail.

The Appeal Court upheld the charges and sentences against all four men in March 2012.

On Friday, the three continued to maintain their innocence of the charges of bribery, illegal detention and extortion, blaming the crimes on the still-at-large Mr. Kong You and Ry Lay, Pursat’s Forestry Administration officer.

Referring to the case of Khol Sokna, who was detained by the prosecutor and his men in 2010 for allegedly transporting illegal timber and held until he paid a bribe for his freedom, Mr. Chan Sereivuth told the court he was in Phnom Penh at the time of the abduction.

“I don’t know about this case,” he said. “I did not order [the bodyguards] to crack down on the rosewood case,” he said.

“The ACU persuaded me to give them answers,” the former prosecutor said referring to an incriminating statement he made after his arrest.

Mr. Samnang and Mr. Vuthy also told the court they were innocent, and redirected the blame from their former boss, claiming that they detained Mr. Sokna in 2010 on the orders of Mr. Kong You and not Mr. Chan Sereivuth. The two men said they knew nothing of extortion and the bribe de­manded for the release of Mr. Sokna and other victims in Pursat.

“I don’t know about the extortion of money from the victims,” Mr. Samnang said.

However, addressing the court, Mr. Sokna told how he was handcuffed by the two bodyguards and ordered to pay a bribe of $1,500 to be released.

Supreme Court prosecutor Seng Buy Kheang said that he didn’t believe the former prosecutor or his bodyguards’ version of events and asked that their original jail sentences be upheld.

The Supreme Court will announce its decision on March 6.

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