The Appeal Court on Wednesday upheld the decision of the Pursat court to release four men detained over a land dispute and to send the case back to its point of origin, Banteay Meanchey province.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice launched an inspection of Top Chansereyvuth, the Pursat prosecutor who handled the case and also allegedly stood to gain in the land dispute, officials said.
“I released them on bail and transferred this base back to Banteay Meanchey provincial court to investigate and hear again,” said Appeal Court Judge Saly Theara. “The Pursat court could not hear this case.”
Mom Sarun, 47, Choum Chanthan, 45, Chea Sitha, 53, and Chhor Touch, 48, were released late Wednesday, Pursat court Director Tol Vorn said. They stand accused of destroying a fence and GPS device in a 2008 protest over a decade-long land dispute with the National Agriculture Development Association in Banteay Meanchey’s O’Chrou district. Nine others also charged in the case but still at large were also granted bail.
The case was moved to Pursat without explanation by order from Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana, who has not responded to multiple requests for comment this week. The case followed Top Chansereyvuth, formerly a judge in Banteay Meanchey before he became the prosecutor in charge of the case in Pursat. According to a 2001 internal NADA document, Top Chansereyvuth was slated to receive 2 hectares of the disputed land.
Top Chansereyvuth said by telephone Thursday that he did not know about the detainees’ release and hung up when asked about his 2-hectare stake in the case.
On order from the minister, inspectors from the Ministry of Justice were scrutinizing cases at the Pursat court Monday through Wednesday, said Justice Ministry Undersecretary of state Keut Rith.
“We inspected the Pursat court and a case involving Top Chansereyvuth, and the inspector will release the results soon,” he said, declining to comment further.
Banteay Meanchey Prosecutor So Vath said that Justice Ministry investigators had also surveyed documents at his court related to the land dispute.
The 2001 NADA document names 13 other officials slated to receive portions of the disputed land, including Funcinpec Secretary-General and Deputy Prime Minister Nhiek Bun Chhay and Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha.
SRP President Sam Rainsy, whose party has an alliance with the HRP, said he would wait for a full investigation before pronouncing himself on his ally’s alleged involvement in the land dispute.
“I think that these are matters, affairs that must be left to the interested parties to disentangle between them,” he said. “It does not concern the vital interests of the nation.”
(Additional reporting by Isabelle Roughol)