Families of Alleged Relic Thieves Plead Their Release

The families of five men jailed almost a year ago for alleged involvement in stealing relics of the Buddha from a stupa on Odong Mountain expressed their dismay Friday after the deputy provincial prosecutor appealed the investigating judge’s decision on the case, which they said was to drop all charges against the men.

Security guards Chorm Thai, 57; Sieng Sarin, 58; and Ka Sak, 46; chief of security Pha Sokhem, 59; and moto-taxi driver Kann Sopheak, 39, were detained at Kandal provincial prison soon after the relics were stolen in December last year from inside a $4.5 million stupa.

The relics were rehoused inside the Royal Palace after they were discovered in February at the home of Takeo farmer Keo Reaksmey. He is also in prison after confessing sole responsibility for the theft, according to police.

Sieng Chamroeun, the daughter of one of the men, said the five defendants received an official notification from Investigating Judge Lim Sokuntha on November 20 informing them of his decision to drop the charges against them. She expressed her frustration that they continue to languish in Kandal provincial prison.

“Please Samdech Hun Sen and the Court of Appeal, help to release my father and the other four people because they are innocent,” she said.

Judge Sokuntha confirmed that provincial deputy prosecutor Sam Rithyveasna had already filed an appeal against his decision.

“After I decided on the case, the deputy prosecutor appealed against my decision…to the Court of Appeal about 10 days ago,” Judge Sokuntha said, declining to confirm that he decided to exonerate the prisoners.

Asked why he appealed the judge’s ruling, Mr. Rithyveasna declined to comment, saying only that the “case is still proceeding.”

The case will be sent to the Court of Appeal on Monday, according to the chief clerk in the provincial prosecutor’s office, Chheav Rindy.

Roeun Phalla, the daughter of Mr. Thai, one of the security guards, said attempting to prevent her father, who with four other men has spent 8 months in prison alongside a man who has confessed to the same crime, appeared malicious.

“The judge acquitted [my father] and the four other people. So why does the prosecutor want to hurt them?”

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