In a telephone recording, he is heard offering to ‘solve your problem’
Days before his arrest last year, Pursat provincial prosecutor Tob Chan Sereivuth was accused of demanding money to bribe another court to drop charges against an RCAF captain who allegedly burned a man to death.
Provincial authorities had appeared hesitant to act after the fatal June 2009 gasoline immolation of Loeung Saroeun. Prior to his arrest in September, Captain Ou Bunthann of the 14th RCAF Invention Brigade had been at large for more than a year.
The complaint adds to the mounting allegations of corruption against Mr Chan Sereivuth, who is to stand trial next week with two co-defendants in a separate case.
Kea Chhay, a defense lawyer for Mr Chan Sereivuth, said yesterday that he was unaware of the latest corruption complaints against his client.
Lawyers for Capt Bunthann lodged a complaint against Mr Chan Sereivuth with the Anticorruption Unit on Nov 26, just three days before Mr Chan Sereivuth was arrested. The complaint alleges that Mr Chan Sereivuth instructed the wife of Capt Bunthann to pay $6,000 for him to effect a bribe of the Military Court seeking the dismissal of murder charges.
“Then in a phone conversation with my client and his wife, he expressed his personal interests rather than considering the legal aspects of bringing justice to a real victim,” said the complaint submitted by defense lawyers Im Socheat and Soeung Piseth.
Although a lawyer for the victim’s family submitted a complaint against Capt Bunthann to Pursat Provincial Court, it did not immediately act. About two weeks after the killing, the Military Court issued a warrant for Capt Bunthann’s arrest and later charged him with murder.
Only after that did Mr Chan Sereivuth also bring charges.
According to a recording of an undated telephone conversation between Mr Chan Sereivuth and Capt Bunthann given to The Daily, Mr Chan Sereivuth may have delayed bringing charges while he negotiated with the murder suspect.
The two men are heard to speak familiarly, and Mr Chan Sereivuth urges Capt Bunthann to trust him to “solve your problem.”
Although he does not directly request money, Mr Chan Sereivuth tells his friend he will not file charges until they meet in person. He also suggests a lawyer who could get Capt Bunthann’s case transferred from the Military Court to the provincial court for $2,000.
“The lawyer representing [the victim] has lodged a complaint with me seeking to charge you, but I do not charge you yet,” he is heard to say in the recording. “I keep it for a while until I can meet you and talk with you clearly.
“I wanted to introduce you to a good lawyer, but [the lawyer] asked for $2,000, which your wife refused” to pay, he is heard to say.
Capt Bunthann replied: “I know that you are my brother and I believe in you, but while I am on the run like this I feel I dare not meet you.”
“Just think by yourself. I will not force you, but if you keep grilling the elephant then I will charge you,” Mr Chan Sereivuth said, using a Khmer expression for unwisely attempting to solve a large problem on one’s own.
Capt Bunthann’s wife lodged a separate complaint in February at Pursat Provincial Court accusing Mr Chan Sereivuth of the same extortion offense.
In the complaint, 53-year-old Pen Saroeun claims the provincial prosecutor asked her for $6,000 in cash that he would use for bribes at the Military Court.
In an interview last week, Ms Saroeun said Mr Chan Sereivuth had returned the money to her after her husband’s arrest, telling her the Military Court had refused to accept it.
She said her husband and Mr Chan Sereivuth were so close they were like brothers.
Neak Sovann, a prosecution clerk at the provincial court, said last week that he had not seen Ms Saroeun’s complaint and knew nothing of the alleged offenses.
“I do not know about this business of his,” Mr Sovann said of his former boss. “He never let me know about his financial interests. Regarding those issues, he told only his bodyguard and driver.”
However, Mr Sovann acknowledged that Mr Chan Sereivuth and Capt Bunthann had been longtime business partners and friends.
Deputy Military Court prosecutor Brigadier General Mak Seiha, who obtained the original arrest warrant and charges, said he was unaware of any attempt by Mr Chan Sereivuth to bribe officers of the Military Court.
“I handled this case with cleanness,” he said. “This court is very clean, but [Mr Chan Sereivuth] is a bad man for putting the blame on us.”
Capt Bunthann’s case was transferred from the Military Court to the provincial court in March, but no hearing in the case has yet been scheduled, according to defense lawyer Mr Socheat.
Pursat province investigating Judge Kol Kampoul and ACU spokesman Keo Remy could not be reached.