The Khmer Rouge tribunal announced yesterday that its co-investigating judges consider their investigation into the court’s second case to be complete, paving the way for indictments to be handed down as much as nine months from now.
The two-and-a-half-year investigation has examined tens of thousands of pages of evidence and more than 800 statements by witnesses, victims and suspects, the court said in a statement.
In addition to their concluding legal reasoning in this investigation, the co-investigating judges must now also turn to an investigation of five additional Khmer Rouge suspects, which has been openly opposed and condemned by the government.
Parties to the trial, including defense teams for all five Khmer Rouge regime suspects in detention, have 30 days to file requests for further investigation into areas they feel the judges have not sufficiently examined. After the judges have decided whether to entertain these requests, they will forward the case file to prosecutors, who in turn will have 45 days to make their concluding arguments on the charges they are seeking and how they interpret the evidence collected so far.
Finally, the co-investigating judges will issue a closing order, either indicting one or more of the five suspects under investigation or dismissing their cases. Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, his wife, former Social Action Minister Ieng Thirith, former head of state Khieu Samphan and former secret police chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, who is already awaiting a verdict for his command of S-21, all face indictment.
“It is possible that one or more people might be dismissed from the case,” ECCC legal affairs spokesman Lars Olsen said yesterday at a press conference at the tribunal. “This has to do with the presumption of innocence. Until there is an indictment, we don’t know whether they will be indicted.”
The co-investigating judges “will endeavor” to issue their closing order in September 2010, Mr Olsen said.
“The reason for the 2.5 years of investigation is that obviously crimes were committed 30 years ago and it’s a very complex thing to investigate,” Mr Olsen said. “One reason to conduct a thorough investigation is to maintain the rights of those who are detained.”
The earliest that any possible trial could begin is the end of 2010, Mr Olsen added.
However, he emphasized that this was a best-case scenario. If, as expected, there are many requests for further investigative action, the closing order could be issued later than September, and the trial might not commence until mid-2011.
The prosecution may appeal indictments. A prosecution appeal of the Duch indictment in 2008 delayed the start of trial by six months.