During closing arguments yesterday in the drug trafficking case of Moek Dara, the ex-drug czar again professed his innocence and urged the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court to sentence him to death should it find him guilty.
Mr. Dara, the former head of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, is charged with drug trafficking and heading an organized crime group along with anti-drug officers Chea Leng and Morn Doeun, who remains at large and is being tried in absentia. Despite Mr. Dara’s suggestion, the charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. There is no death penalty in Cambodia.
During weeks of testimony from witnesses ranging from subordinates to drug dealers, the prosecution accused the three of conspiring for years to falsify reports in order to hide seized drugs and depict suspected drug dealers as mere addicts to win them lighter sentences—all in exchange for bribe money.
Lawyers for the defense could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But according to Nop Virak, a provincial monitor for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights who has been observing the trial from the start, one of the defense lawyers, Kar Savuth, said his client was in fact “a leader of cracking down on drug smuggling.”
He said Mr. Dara and Mr. Leng themselves argued that any inconsistencies in their reports, if proved, were due to “administrative mistakes” and only demonstrated a failure “in monitoring his lower-level officials.”
Mr. Dara, he added, also argued that he could not possibly have committed the alleged crimes because he helped draft the country’s Law on Drug Control.
“Mr. Dara said that if he wanted to commit the crimes alleged by the prosecution, he would have committed serious crimes bigger than these,” Mr. Virak said.
Mr. Leng reportedly also denied all the charges and called the witness testimonies implicating him “just useless.”
Prosecutor Phann Vanrath said the pair’s defense team also argued that all their drug raid operations had been approved in advance by prosecutors—as per government proclamation—and that those prosecutors ought to be tried as well.
But Mr. Vanrath said he countered that the prosecutors who signed off on the raids would not always be informed of the outcomes.
“The court’s prosecutors very often are not informed about the release [of suspects] because they [the defendants] sometimes didn’t report to the prosecutors about the operations’ results,” he said.
Mr. Dara and Mr. Leng asked the court to drop all charges against them, while Mr. Dara also told a panel of judges, “It is not necessary to sentence me to life imprisonment if you are to find me guilty—just execute me,” according to the prosecutor.
The judges are expected to deliver their verdict on Jan 5.
Mr. Dara’s is the most high-profile case to be brought to court by the country’s nascent Anti-Corruption Unit to date.
Last month, the provincial court sentenced former provincial police chief Hun Hean to four years in jail for three counts of bribery totaling $160,000 but knocked off nearly an entire year for time served in pre-trial detention.
In May, Pursat Provincial Court sentenced former provincial court prosecutor Tob Chan Sereivuth to 19 years in jail after convicting him of systematic extortion and illegal detention.