Court observers say sentencing far too light for gravity of crime
The Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court yesterday sentenced former provincial police chief Hun Hean to four years in prison after convicting him on three counts of corruption after years of taking bribes from suspected drug dealers and corrupt law enforcement officers.
Human rights groups said the sentencing was far too light considering the gravity of the crime.
Presiding Judge Im Vannak also ordered Mr Hean to pay the court $320,000 in fines, twice the amount he was found to have taken in bribes during his three years as police chief.
The judge, however, knocked nearly a year off Mr Hean’s prison term for the time he had already spent in pretrial detention since January, according to deputy prosecutor Phan Phearom.
“This conviction provides a good example of the judicial sector fighting corruption,” he said.
Following a two-day trial earlier this month, Judge Vannak said Mr Hean had confessed to taking bribes from suspected drug dealers on two occasions in 2009 and 2010 and from economic crime police officers manning nine border checkpoints across Banteay Meanchey province.
Phun Chin, a provincial monitor for human rights group Licadho, who attended the trial, said Mr Hean only confessed to taking bribes from the suspected drug dealers. He said Mr Hean claimed to have no idea where the wads of money his subordinates were giving him every month was coming from and put it down to a long-standing tradition in the wider civil service of sending money up the chain of command to national-level officials.
The police chief also reportedly claimed to have plowed his kickback money into the construction of local pagodas.
Mr Hean was arrested in January along with two subordinates-deputy provincial police chief Cheang Sun and provincial anti-drug officer Khieu Sara-on suspicion of taking bribes. Provincial criminal police chief Hem Sophal was arrested three months later, while another anti-drug officer, Morm Doeun, remains at large.
Mr Phearom, the deputy prosecutor, said the court convicted all the subordinates of corruption as well. Mr Sun was sentenced to four years and given a $10,600 fine; Mr Sophal to three years – two of which are suspended – and a $3,400 fine; and Mr Sara to three years of which two-and-a-half years are suspended. Mr Sophal and Mr Sara will also have time knocked off their sentences for time spent in pre-trial detention. That would mean that Mr Sara could be released any day.
Mr Phearom said the court had also sentenced Mr Doeun-who was convicted in absentia-to three years and a $6,400 fine and issued a warrant for his arrest.
Human rights groups welcomed the convictions but criticized the sentences.
“The sentencing is just so light,” said Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for Licadho. “[It] will not deter people from taking the risk of getting bribes.”
Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said the court should also go after the economic crime police officers who testified to making payments to Mr Hean, and look for any superiors to whom Mr Hean may also have passed corruption money up to.
“The economic crime police who paid the bribes and any of Mr Hean’s superiors involved with corruption should face legal action, too,” he said.
But Mr Phearom said the officers who paid the bribes to Mr Hean were only following orders.
He also defended the former police chief’s relatively light sentence saying it was deserved as he had cooperated with the court in confessing to bribe taking.
A new anti-corruption law sets out sentences both for bribe takers and bribe givers but took effect only late last year, after Mr Hean and his subordinates committed their crime.